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Dave Chappelle insulted a group that no one mentions

The long list of iconic black comics that have claimed gender non-conforming people or were themselves members of the LGBTQ community.

Black comics have indeed peddled their fair share of nefarious stereotypes about LGBTQ people. Eddie Murphy, for example, sparked a slew of homophobic slurs in his early stand-up routines – performances he has since apologized for.

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. “

This is what gets lost in the controversy over Chapelle’s comments in his latest stand-up film, “The Closer”. Much of the attention has been focused on the content of his jokes. Chappelle joked about trans women’s genitals and told a story about beating a lesbian woman. And then there are the fallout. Netflix employees and supporters demonstrated on Wednesday to protest the streaming company’s reaction to the complaints. GLAAD, the LGBTQ media organization, also condemned Chapelle’s comments in “The Closer”.

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.

Richard Pryor has spoken openly about his bisexuality to his friends.  During a notorious public performance, he opened up to an audience about his attraction to men.

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.

In 1977, Pryor was headlining a gay rights fundraiser where he spoke on stage about having sex with a man. Pryor’s bisexuality was well known to his friends, although some of his relatives still deny that he was gay.
“With this confession, Pryor may have become the first major Hollywood celebrity to speak graphically about their own positive experience with gay sex – and certainly the first to do so in front of tens of thousands of people,” according to an excerpt from the book, “Becoming Richard Pryor” by Scott Saul.
Moms Mabley, another great black comic, was so open about her gender identity that she was known as “Mr. Moms” off the stage, some say.
Other black artists like artist and actress Josephine Baker, who has been dubbed “a radical bisexual artist and activist, and Ma Rainey, the blues singer known as the” Mother of the Blues, “have shaken the genre tropes.
    Jackie Moms Mabley was a comic pioneer on stage and an open backstage lesbian.  Friends say she didn't try to hide her identity.
Rainey sang openly about lesbian relationships and cross-dressing in the early 20th century, when homosexuality was seen as a form of mental illness. In her 1928 song, “Prove it on Me Blues, she sang:

“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.

As one reviewer asked, “What’s Dave Chapelle’s problem with gay people?
The timing, it has been said, is all in comedy, and the timing for “The Closer” is horrible. Chapelle’s comments come in a year in which at least 33 states have introduced bills to restrict the rights of transgender people – and while record numbers of transgender people, mostly women transgender people of color, were murdered.

“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.

Tyler Perry built his entertainment empire on

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.

“Ancestors like Bruce and Pryor reveled in infiltrating the general public with beliefs about gender, race and culture so progressive that they were dangerous,” commentator Charles Bramesco said in a 2019 article where Chapelle , again, offended the LGBTQ community with comments on what he calls “people of the alphabet”.

“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.


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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.