The long list of iconic black comics that have claimed gender non-conforming people or were themselves members of the LGBTQ community.
But the scene was one of those rare places in the black community where LGBTQ members had some freedom to be themselves – or to escape the cruelty they faced in the outside world. Chappelle took part of this space.
“There is a long tradition of trans and gender non-conforming performers in our history, from the Harlem Renaissance to our entire performing history,” says Marlon M. Bailey, author of “Butch Queens Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance. , and Ballroom Culture in Detroit. “
It’s easy to forget, however, with all the attention paid to Chapelle that there were black comedians who took big risks to assert LGBTQ people and be honest about their own sexuality.
Richard Pryor and Mabley Moms
Consider the story of Richard Pryor, arguably the greatest stand-up comic of all time.
There is a generation of moviegoers who only know him through the tasteless Hollywood movies he starred in like “The Toy”. But Pryor was a different artist on the stand-up comedy scene: fearless, unpredictable, profane. And honest about his bisexuality.
“I went out last night with a crowd of my friends,
It must have been women, because I don’t like men.
Wear my clothes like a fan,
Talk to girls like any old man. “
From Geraldine ‘to RuPaul
Chappelle may have issues with trans women, but black audiences have traditionally embraced black male comics that create gender characters in dresses.
And so are many contemporary black male comics. It’s almost a rite of passage for a comedic black man to create a female character or a stage character. Artist and author Tyler Perry built his entertainment empire on the generous bosom of “Madea”, the carefree and wise black matriarch. RuPaul has a huge following.
Comedians as diverse as Martin Lawrence (“Big Momma’s House”), and Marlon and Shawn Wayans (“White Chicks”) have donned dresses for some of their most popular films.
There is of course a debate to be had about black men posing as women or portraying LGBTQ characters on stage and in movies. Some of these representations may have reinforced stereotypes or be in bad taste. But none of them have the gratuitous cruelty to LGBTQ people that Chappelle brings to his Netflix specials.
“Right now the trans community is under siege, especially the trans community of color,” said Bailey, who is also a professor in the African and African American studies department at Arizona State University. “Artists should take this into account.”
Chappelle should take something else into account.
From a certain point of view, his last special is a success. He generated headlines, viewers and added millions for his personal fortune. It can be said that all the great actors arouse indignation. It’s part of their job description. This is how they get people to think. This is one of the reasons Chapel, who studies comic book history, received the Mark Twain Prize for American humor.
But ambitious comedians also face another invisible audience – the greats who inspired them, some of whom are still alive. They face this audience during each performance. They have to come to terms with and borrow from the masters before developing their own voice. Chappelle says he was inspired by Pryor. Pryor was inspired by Lenny Bruce. Key & Peele’s black comedy duo (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) have been inspired by everyone from Abbott and Costello to Steve Martin.
The betrayal of Chapel of the black comic tradition
Chappelle turned his back on that audience by doing something they’ve never done – make a career out of pursuing a group even more vilified than black.
The great comics that Chapelle says inspired him didn’t make this mistake.
“Chappelle would prefer to retire to his niche as an old crank, where everything is expected and safe,” says Bramesco.
The Chapel Ox with the LBGQT community dishonours the memory of all those black comic book greats who made his career – and millions – possible.
They created a safe space on the comic book scene for people who didn’t fit traditional gender norms. Black comics like Pryor weren’t perfect when it came to their sexual politics (Pryor ended his gay rights fundraiser by going after white gays and telling the crowd to “kiss my rich man and happy black ass “.
But they proved that a black comic could be bold and brilliant without hitting another stigmatized group to be considered a big one.