But Dave Chappelle’s latest TV special, which includes a number of anti-trans jokes, is simply boorish funny offensive jokes cruelly offensive. I know that I laugh at myself.
I do find it funny—in a cringe comedy sort of way—when a nurse asks me for the date of my last menstrual cycle because I still haven’t figured out the most artful way of explaining that I have a vagina but no ovaries. USB adapters and I have made more than my fair share of bad puns on the trans- prefix. What a strange situation I’ve found myself in. I could almost hear the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme.
But when other people laugh at women like me for the wrong reasons—because they think we are really men, or they think that a man who sleeps with us must be gay—I no longer find it funny. And that’s exactly the kind of humor that Chappelle seems determined to perpetuate. LGBT people who criticize stand-up comedy do. You know who hates me the most? Chappelle asks his Equanimity audience early on in the special. Yo, yeah these motherfuck—I didn’t realize how bad it was.
These motherfuckers was really mad about that last Netflix special. Chappelle always errs on the side of mockery. Get The Beast In Your Inbox! You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.
Of course, no acknowledgment is made in Chappelle’s special of the fact that transgender people—especially transgender people of color—face staggering levels of violence and murder, except for a single comment at the end in which he essentially abdicates responsibility for his rhetoric. Netflix special wouldn’t push them over the edge. But if you recognize that comedy, like all forms of media, plays an undeniable role in shaping our culture, then you know how morally disingenuous it is to claim that holding a microphone on a stage gives you free reign to mock an already-brutalized minority. If you’ve been listening to transgender advocates like Cox and Mock, you know that the root of anti-transgender violence is often the belief that we are not really our genders, and that we are trying to deceive those around us.
Chappelle says, to uproarious laughter from his audience. For an all-too-brief moment, it seems like Chappelle is going to subvert expectations and assert that, for all the outrageous things he says about transgender women on stage, he still recognizes that we are women—that the constant misgendering and the inappropriate punchlines are just meant to get a rise out of his critics. I have spent the last two years laughing at transgender jokes told by comedians as wide-ranging as Jimmy Kimmel, Daily Show contributor Michelle Wolf, and transgender comedian Ian Harvie. I laugh at jokes, even irreverent ones, that find humor in our experience without implying that we are inherently disgusting, subhuman, or unworthy of love.
I know, too, the value of gallows humor—and that you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of transgender people that doesn’t make a few crass anatomical jokes here or there in the safety of each other’s company. But those aren’t the kind of jokes that Chappelle is telling. At this point, after two back-to-back specials in one year, his transgender jokes are getting as tired as they are hurtfully unfunny. This article possibly contains original research. This kind of meta-joke is a joke in which a familiar class of jokes is part of the joke. An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar.