Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle & The Numbers: Is Being Offensive Good Again?



Written By: Anton Sawyer








I've always felt that the death threats I've received from various social justice warriors (SJWs) due to my defense of the first amendment were something to take pride in. That my belief we should adhere to the ideals of free expression as given to us by our forefathers as something penultimate to strive for was so upsetting to those who seek to destroy this right that they wanted to see my life end is a badge I don't take lightly.


For several years, this idea of unfettered expression was an unpopular one (hence the death threats), but it seems that between the events surrounding comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, this tide is turning. The eight-month period encapsulating these situations has been one of excitement for people like myself; those who will defend that which I hate because I understand that what I say could be next. Yet, like everything else involving the entertainment industry, there are still some that haven’t gotten the memo.

 

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Black Pussy & Me


One of the defining times of my life was during the mid-2010s while I was doing public relations (PR) for a band called Black Pussy. Because I’ve written about this experience before, along with going into more details on the You Can't Handle The Truther podcast, I’m not going to belabor the point. Ultimately the band’s controversial name had led a group of music journalists to claim it was inspired by the song “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones—a song about raping slaves—as Black Pussy was the song’s original title. The bands’ name, their heavy 1970s influence, all combined with creative writing by those with an agenda created a stew where the band was perceived as racist. Nobody in the band is racist, and there have never been any references by anyone in the band espousing such a thing. Because I was their PR guy, I was also perceived as guilty and began receiving death threats around the time the tour was about to begin. The righteous indignation contained in each word was almost palpable. At that time, I truly thought we were living in a new world in which the lack of research, combined with emotional overdrive, was the new du jour and was here to stay. Much like the hula-hoop, it seems this concept of destroying entertainment which you may find offensive has gone into a deep sleep.


Enter Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock.


via Netflix "Dave Chappelle The Closer"
via Netflix "Dave Chappelle The Closer"


Dave Chappelle


The controversy surrounding Chappelle's jokes about the trans community on his Netflix show "The Closer" in October 2021 caused the same kind of SJWs I dealt with to begin their rounds on social media in an attempt to cancel him. Chappelle's set included jokes such as “Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth." Shortly after his failed cancellation attempts commenced, Chappelle headlined an event at the Hollywood Bowl in front of an audience in the tens of thousands where he was greeted with a standing ovation. He responded, “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it." At the same event, he addressed the aforementioned attempts on various media platforms more bluntly. “Fuck Twitter. Fuck NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid ass networks. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. This is real life.”


When Chappelle seemed to flourish from the controversy, the hate and backlash were then focused on Netflix. This led to a Netflix employee walkout. This changed nothing though as Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos—who did express regret at his handling of the controversy over The Closer—stood his ground and didn't remove the program. “We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed, and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” Sarandos wrote in an email. Later in the email, he uses the same rationale which ultimately won the heavy metal band Judas Priest their court case in 1990 when being accused of their music causing a teenager to commit suicide (spoiler alert: it’s about personal accountability when it comes to the interpretation of a source of entertainment). Per Sarandos, “Adults can watch violence, assault, and abuse—or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy—without it causing them to harm others.”


Given my experience with controversial artists; I'm not going to lie, these outcomes of support for Chappelle surprised me. I had thought that once certain lines were crossed, the damage was done. Though still hesitant in getting my hopes up that the page had turned, it's the events that took place at the 2022 Academy Awards between Chris Rock and Will Smith that makes me think it finally has.





2022 Academy Awards
2022 Academy Awards

Chris Rock


If you haven’t seen the kerfuffle yet, I beg you to. During the awards show, Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, referencing her shaved head stating “Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2, can't wait to see it.” After appearing to laugh at the joke, Mr. Smith was offended enough to get up from his seat, walk onto the stage, and slap Rock across the face. As of this publication date, no charges have been filed against Smith for this altercation. After it was all said and done, the response was overwhelming … in the favor of Rock.


In the 48 hours following the slap, social media exploded with everyone and their mother weighing in on who was in the right and who was in the wrong. Hashtags #TeamWill, #TeamWillSmith, #TeamChris, and #TeamChrisRock were trending on Twitter along with phrases like “I support Will Smith” and “I support Chris Rock.” Thanks to a map assembled by Bet Online that tracked and geotagged hashtags and phrases on over 200,000 tweets, we can see which states lent their support to which celebrity. With 41 states taking his side, Chris Rock came out on top.


In another event of coincidence, live event ticketing site TickPick sold more tickets to see Chris Rock overnight than it had sold in the past month combined after the show aired, according to a tweet from the company. Also, On March 18 (before the slap), the cheapest tickets were sold for $46 but had increased to $411 within the same 48 hour time frame, according to TickPick's public relations representative Kyle Zorn.


Of course, not everything that glitters is gold. There has been a downside to all of this. Namely, the response of the Hollywood machine.


Shortly after the infamous slap, Will Smith won the Oscar for best actor award and was allowed to give an acceptance speech. During his speech, which didn’t include an apology to Rock but rather to the Acadamy, he received a standing ovation from those in attendance. To them, battery in the “name of what is morally correct” is something worthy of praise. I have to admit, writing that line held so many echoes of my personal experience in public relations that it gave me chills. Regardless, I’m not sure if Russell Crowe was in attendance, but it appeared the audience was indeed, entertained.


Because of how ghoulish the audience's response was when it came to supporting violence over entertainment, some have come out to use their celebrity to shine a light on this gross misconduct of ideology. One of the most notable opponents of Hollywood’s reaction has been Jim Carrey. He said of the event, “I was sickened. I was sickened by the standing ovation.” He continued, “Hollywood is just spineless en masse and it really felt like this is a really clear indication that we aren’t the cool club anymore.” This sentiment has not only been shared by most of those in the comic community who have joined in with their own statements of repudiation towards the Hollywood machine but according to the numbers from Bet Online above, also by America at-large.


And that makes me happy.



I understand that words have consequences. But I also value the contract that we’ve all agreed upon by living in this country called the constitution. I know that sounds like a super-conservative tagline, but it isn’t inaccurate when it comes to the value we need to place on the freedom of speech and expression. I know what it’s like to be perceived as being on the wrong side of a social issue, and the (potential) violence that can accompany such a thing, and knowing there is no assistance from your peers. I’m hoping that these positive changes can continue and proliferate outside of the realm of comedy. I’m hoping that we can get to a point where all forms of entertainment can shed some moral stigma forced upon them by someone else’s perceptions of the meaning of said art. So far, things are looking up, and we have the funnymen of the world to thank.

 

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