That crude and tasteless joke was made back in 1983 by none other than the legendary Eddie Murphy as he opened one of his most prolific stand-up specials, Delirious.
I cringed last year when I finally got to watch it on Netflix. Being a Black gay millennial, I was surprised to see the comedian I grew up admiring in family-friendly films such as The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle, and Mulan once held such despicable views about people like myself.
But I was born in 1991 and times were surely different when Murphy got his comedic start in the early 1980’s. However, Dave Chapelle proves in Black comedy, LGBT people are still considered a punchline.
This month, Netflix debuted a pair of long-awaited stand-up specials from powerhouse comedian Dave Chappelle. Like many fans, I’ve always found his perspective on race and society humorously deep. Arguably, very few Black comedians of my generation have broken the kind of barriers he has on unraveling some of the most sensitive discussions pertaining to racism. But when it comes to discussing LGBT folks, Chappelle is as lazy and problematic as they come. What’s even worse is that his jokes reinforce further stigma and marginalization rather than provide any true insight.
Translation: I felt like a punching bag for an immature, rich grown ass straight man to unleash his fragile masculinity. The viewing experience wasn’t cool at all — Chappelle’s perspective was just straight up unintelligent, harmful, and downright unnecessary.
For one, I’m not an overly sensitive liberal who can’t take a joke. However, there’s a difference between making a joke and spewing unbridled hate. When hearing Chappelle refer to gay men as a “ladyboy” and “prison fags” while proscribing cliche effeminate tones to further stereotype their desire for basic human rights (such as marriage) — it was blatant homophobia with no laughs.
Chappelle continues on such spineless insults by inserting dumbfounded suggestions that progress for Black transgender women comes at the expense of Black liberation. When joking about “Black dudes in Brooklyn, hard, street motherf**kers, who wear high heels just to feel safe,” Chappelle ignores the fact that so far this year alone seven Black transgender women have been reportedly murdered just for living in their truth. He also ignores the fact that LGBT youth homeless rates across the nation are staggering, with Black individuals being the highest demographic.
However, Chapelle wouldn’t care about these startling statistics. He is a wealthy, straight Black entertainer who just inked a $60 million dollar deal with Netflix, which he has used to mock the LGBTQ community and further perpetuate negative stereotypes on a vulnerable population. It’s ironic — but not shocking — that for a man who walked away years ago from another multi-million dollar contract (based on personal racial discomfort) wouldn’t find the same level of empathy for another group of people fighting against oppression. Currently, there is no federal law protecting LGBT people from discrimination of employment, housing, and public accommodations nationwide. For Chappelle, it’s easy to take shots at a marginalized community. But what’s not funny is the reality of being fired, attacked, and stereotyped by other Black folks.
Yes, I know Chappelle has had an ugly past history of homophobia and transphobia — and one could fairly argue that I shouldn’t be surprised. Nonetheless, I had hopes that he would eventually grow with the times. Unfortunately, Chappelle’s triumphant comeback is a continuation of bigotry, which is even more toxic in the Trump era of executive orders.
Some may find Chappelle’s recent humor “just jokes,” but being further ostracized from my own community as a Black gay man in a time of political uncertainty isn’t a laughing matter.
Ernest Owens is an award-winning multimedia journalist in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @MrErnestOwens