Why Are Comedians Like Dave Chappelle Still Resorting To Rape Jokes In 2017?

Photo: Lester Cohen/Netflix.
Twelve years after his fraught departure from Chappelle's Show, his eponymous Comedy Central sketch series — and a lauded post-election appearance on SNL — Dave Chappelle has officially made his big return to TV comedy. The 43-year-old made a deal with Netflix to release three standup specials, two of which were released this week. For the most part, the shows (previously taped live performances) are receiving rave reviews. It sounds like Chappelle is as hilarious, outrageous, and, yes, offensive as ever. And while making politically incorrect jokes that offend people is absolutely not, in itself, a problem, telling regressive rape jokes in 2017 definitely is.
During the first special, filmed in Hollywood (the other in Austin), Chappelle launches into a story about brushing up with Hollywood producers backstage at the Oscars in 2016. One had apparently asked Chappelle if he had any movie ideas he'd like to pursue. The comic admits that he didn't have any in the works, but didn't want to squander the chance to pitch a Hollywood exec face-to-face. (Would you?) So, he made a couple superhero movie pitches on the spot.
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His first pitch is about a gay superhero, and the way Chappelle tells it rings extremely homophobic; the second tells the tale of a rapist superhero — as in, a superhero who rapes women. "The only problem with this guy is he can't even activate his powers unless he touches a woman's vagina," Chappelle jokes. "Not a long touch, just a couple of pats," he adds, miming molesting a woman. "When trouble breaks out, he has to run around the city and convince women to let him pat their vaginas. 'Please, miss! That building's on fire. Can I pat your vagina quickly? People are dying!" (Remind you of any other pussy-grabbing person in power?)
Chappelle continued: "So he rapes them. I know, I know! That's the dilemma for the audience because he rapes, but he saves a lot of lives. And he saves way more than he rapes, and he only rapes to save. But he does rape."
Now, there are plenty of controversial moments in this routine that one could take issue with. But to me, this in particular is the kind of "LOL @ rape" joke that exists simply for a cheap, ignorant laugh. In this instance, Chappelle fails to make a point, flip the issue on its head, or, really, say much of anything at all. It's simply adding another stale, misogynistic rape joke to the nauseatingly high pile of preexisting ones. It doesn't make you rethink anything, or think at all, for that matter. In other words: if you're going to go there, at least try to say something smart or at least something funny.
It's just plain frustrating that a comedian of Chappelle's caliber would resort to a rape joke like this, specifically in the world we live in today. The man is smarter and funnier than this. And this is is not the kind of zingy, wild humor that people have spent the last 12 years missing.
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