Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special is No. 1 but taking heat — controversy explained

Dave Chappelle in comedy special The Dreamer
(Image credit: Netflix)

Comedian Dave Chappelle is stirring up controversy with his latest Netflix special The Dreamer, which premiered on Dec. 31 on the streaming platform. Filmed in the same theater where Chappelle first started his career, the special mostly reflects on his ascent to success. However, Chappelle's renewed focus on jokes about the transgender community has landed him squarely in the public's crosshairs once more.

In The Dreamer, Chappelle declares that he’s done with making transgender jokes, a sensitive topic, given the outcry that he initially dredged up with his 2021 Netflix special The Closer.

"It wasn't worth the trouble," he explains. Despite this, he continues to make not one but several jokes about transgender people that could be considered transphobic. 

But he wasn’t done there. He also takes aim at the disabled, justifying his actions by saying, "They're not as organized as the gays."

Additionally, a significant portion of the comedy special includes Chappelle discussing his efforts to mend his relationship with the transgender community. He riffs on his idea to "write a play," which he jokes is about a Black transgender woman who meets a tragic end due to their name being a racial slur.

The comedian even talks about his desire to be incarcerated in a women's jail should he ever be sentenced — with a punchline about transgender people that is widely considered offensive.

Reactions to Chappelle's new Netflix special

Since the release of the Netflix special, Chappelle has been trending on social media. Some users expressed disappointment in the comedian's persistent focus on trans-related humor and questioned his motives.

"I think it's extremely weird and probably telling (in a way that only a shrink could unpack) that Dave Chappelle, one of the sharpest comedians to ever stand on a stage, is still out here antagonizing trans folks. Hard to reckon with what a disappointment he has turned out to be," wrote one viewer on X (formerly known as Twitter). 

Another viewer posted, "Used to think Dave Chappelle was a funny dude. Until he started trashing trans people. Transphobia isn't funny. It doesn't make you edgy. It just makes you another stupid bigot. Don't know about you, but I'll be damned if I'm supporting that sh**." 

Yet, others defended Chappelle in spite of what many deemed hateful rhetoric throughout The Dreamer. 

"What don’t y’all get about Dave Chappelle? If y’all are still ranting and raving about his jokes then it’s easy...stop watching him! It’s really not that hard. Dave will forever be a GOAT at this! He’s a genius at this because he knows how to get under y’all skin without tryin," one fan insisted

"I don't understand, if ya don't like Dave Chappelle and find him offensive, why do you watch his specials?" another asked

The controversy is nearly identical to the one that occurred after Chappelle's special The Closer hit Netflix. At the time, he discussed his strained relationship with the LGBTQ+ community, taking fire for some of the jokes he's made at their expense over the years, then turning around and making new ones. 

Chappelle remained in hot water when he remarked he was "Team TERF," which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist and references Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. He also mentioned how he was once "tricked" into finding a trans woman beautiful. He topped it off with a story about a trans comic he reportedly befriended in San Francisco, a diatribe in which viewers have since punched several holes.

At the end of that set, Chappelle made a promise to no longer perform jokes about the LGBTQ+ community, saying he was "done talking about it." Addressing the backlash in another special, Chappelle referred to his critics as "instruments of oppression."

Along with Chappelle, Netflix has come under fire for streaming his specials. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos defended Chappelle's freedom of expression, though he later admitted to mishandling internal company communication regarding the controversy.

The Dreamer has once again placed Chappelle at the center of a heated debate over the boundaries of comedy and provocative content in the streaming era. It remains to be seen what will occur following this new bout of controversy, but it doesn’t seem Chappelle will be changing his ways anytime soon. 

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Brittany Vincent

Brittany Vincent has been covering video games and tech for over 13 years for publications including Tom's Guide, MTV, Rolling Stone, CNN, Popular Science, Playboy, IGN, GamesRadar, Polygon, Kotaku, Maxim, and more. She's also appeared as a panelist at video game conventions like PAX East and PAX West and has coordinated social media for companies like CNET. When she's not writing or gaming, she's looking for the next great visual novel in the vein of Saya no Uta. You can follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake.