How Dave Chapelle “Cushioned” The Transgender Jokes Within “Equanimity”

Dave Chapelle is one of the most controversial comedians of his time. It seems as if he just says whatever he is thinking, and does not care what people think of it. He talks about various controversial topics in his Netflix special “Equanimity” such as Donald Trump, and race. He talks about people getting offended by his jokes, but it clearly has not affected his popularity because people still seem to love him. This asks the question of just how “controversial” is he? To answer this question I am going to analyze the “on again off again” trend of the transgender bit in his Netflix special.

Dave Chapelle opens his transgender bit with the concept of how being transgender is “kind of funny”. This is something that would probably offend a lot of people because the people that are in this predicament probably do not find it funny at all. Chapelle starts off with this joke because although it is a quite controversial joke, it is just one joke and people can get over it quickly. The next thing he talks about is a letter that he received with complaints about how his transgender jokes offended this specific person. In this bit, he has sort of back-tracked his earlier statement by making himself seem sincere. At this point he talks about feeling bad for making someone else feel bad. His reasoning for doing this is simple; people can only take so much at once. If he did many controversial jokes in a row, he would undoubtedly lose his audience. He would have slowly picked away at them until they were absolutely disgusted with what he was saying. Chapelle was aware of this, and after every controversial joke he makes, he has a bit right after making him look empathetic, and personable. This allows for the audience to tolerate a lot moreĀ of theseĀ jokes, because they get a break in between.

This trend continues throughout the entire transgender bit of the show. After he talks about the letter, and how the person who wrote it was offended by a specific joke, he continues by telling the offensive joke to the audience. The joke is about Caitlin Jenner and he says many things about her that many people would take offense to, but the audience is fine with it because he has “proved” to them that he is still a decent person and this allows the audience to tolerate more. After the Caitlin Jenner bit, he begins talking about how he has absolutely no problem with transgender people, and believes that everyone has a right to be happy. This is him reeling back in his audience after the extremely controversial joke.

Although Dave Chapelle is known for being very controversial, it is clear that he knows exactly what he is doing. By doing this “on again off again” technique he is ensuring that he is still known for being controversial and saying whatever is on his mind, but he is doing so without going so far as to offend the majority of his audience to the point where they do not like him anymore. He is still presenting himself as a likable person, although his jokes could be extremely offensive. Dave Chapelle clearly has the right technique when it comes to comedy. He is very smart and talented to be able to pull that off and find the right balance.