She made a crack about how 6 feet of distance and Zoom couldn’t conceal her being trans.
“It’s weird, because I wasn’t trans before the vaccine,” she deadpanned with a shrug.
The audience sat with the joke for a second before erupting into laughter and applause. McBride cracked a sly smile.
The vaccine joke is one of several in McBride’s set that revolve around being transgender — like many successful standups, she mines her own life for material, though she thinks her jokes are relatable for cisgender audiences, too.
“I know [Chappelle] says he wasn’t punching down — he’s absolutely punching down,” McBride told CNN. “When you’re just taking this mean position against a minority, no matter who the minority is or who you are, it just comes off as wrong.”
CNN spoke with four trans comedians about what they think Chappelle got wrong in “The Closer.” Some said they had considered Chappelle a comedy hero. But three of the comedians said that, by targeting trans people — trans women, mostly — and adopting the language of opponents of trans rights, his comedy has mutated into something meaner, more dated and less impactful. (CNN has reached out to a representative for Chappelle and is waiting to hear back.)
Chappelle has been lauded throughout his career for forcing difficult topics on unsuspecting audiences and highlighting the absurdity and omnipotence of anti-Black racism. But his jokes about trans people only reflect his own intolerance, said Mx. Dahlia Belle, a Portland-based standup.
“Given Chappelle’s undeniable cultural impact, his insistence on my erasure is deeply painful and feels like a betrayal,” Belle said in an email to CNN.
Chappelle’s trans jokes weren’t funny, comics say
It’s not that jokes about trans people can’t be funny — it’s just that Chappelle’s weren’t, McBride said.
“I absolutely believe that a straight comic can tell a joke about trans people that is funny for everyone,” McBride said. The conditions? The joke can’t be about their genitals — Chappelle broke that rule with a particularly crude joke that invoked plant-based meat alternatives — and it can’t come from a place of disrespect, she said.
“A joke should only be as offensive as necessary and, if it has to offend, it needs to be funnier than it is offensive,” she told CNN. “No one should come away from a joke more offended than they are entertained. That’s what makes it a joke.”
“I want to like Dave Chappelle so much,” Puff said. “But when he talks about the trans community, he’s not talking about them, he’s speaking out against them. And that’s the difference between saying something funny about the trans community and saying something offensive about the trans community.”
One trans standup on Netflix defends Chappelle
The upsetting context of the year in which the special was released made it more disappointing when Netflix stood behind it, McBride said.
“It’s absolutely a terrible message to send,” she said.
While several Netflix original series star trans actors, there are almost no other standup offerings from trans comedians, save for a set from Chicago’s Flame Monroe in Tiffany Haddish’s “They Ready” series.
Without a dissenting trans comedian’s voice to act as a “counterpoint” to Chappelle’s, said McBride, Netflix “is not helping” combat transphobia or dispel it from its platform.
“As a trans person and a comedian, we mostly crack jokes about who we are and how we identify in my experience, and I’m only speaking for me,” she told CNN in an email. “You can’t ask for inclusion 24/7 and then conveniently want to be excluded because some truths are being told in a comedic fashion about your community.”
“We have to be able, as grown people, [to] stop being so sensitized in this world and be able to take a joke,” she said in an appearance on CNN. “It’s only a joke. Nobody lost their life.”
“I don’t know what the trans community did for her, but I don’t care, because I feel like she wasn’t their tribe,” Chappelle said in the special.
That statement was particularly upsetting, Belle said, because in it Chappelle appeared to link Dorman’s death to how she was treated by other trans people.
“Jokes are jokes, whether good or bad, but there’s something uniquely insidious about being blamed for one’s own oppression – especially by those who otherwise deny that oppression even exists,” she said.
Chappelle has sworn off LGBTQ jokes for now
Chappelle has yet to publicly respond to the backlash against him. He did say, toward the end of “The Closer,” that he’d no longer make jokes about the LGBTQ community until “we are both sure that we are laughing together.”
Monroe was laughing with Chappelle, though she was first taken aback by his jokes. But the three other comedians who spoke to CNN were not.
“I’m a 40-year-old comedian and Black, transgender woman who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s,” Belle said. “I couldn’t care less about jokes being made at my expense. I grew up fearing my imminent murder and/or eternal damnation. What makes ‘The Closer’ unacceptable is the intense gaslighting of multiple, vulnerable communities.”
Meanwhile, McBride has opened for stars like Amy Schumer and played to crowds at Madison Square Garden, but there are still clubs that refuse to book her because she’s trans, she said.
McBride said she hopes the controversy surrounding “The Closer” motivates comedy fans to seek out trans comedians — stars like Patti Harrison, RB Butcher and Jes Tom have already built sizable fanbases — and puts comedy clubs that don’t respect trans performers on notice.
“There are trans comics that are putting in the work all the time, that have followings,” she said. “So it’s only a matter of time.”
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