Dave Chappelle has been criticized in recent days for a Netflix standup special in which he refers to transgender people as “confusing” and takes aim at the men who say they were abused by pop icon Michael Jackson as children. As it turns out, the comedian had a famous fan in the audience that night: gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.
After Sticks and Stones, a 65-minute act recorded in Atlanta, dropped on the streaming service this Monday, fans have been tweeting screenshots of the newsman pictured in the audience during an accompanying epilogue. On the bonus features for the comedy special, Cooper is in the middle of one of his trademark giggles, in response to a joke that if President Trump gets elected, Chapelle knows he will get a “significant tax break.”
But while Cooper’s face is clearly visible in the crowd, two other celebrities appear to be sitting in the same row: singer John Mayer and gay Bravo host Andy Cohen. The pair look to be seated next to each other at the left edge of the screen.
It wouldn’t be outlandish for either Mayer or Cohen to join Cooper for the show. Mayer appeared in a classic segment of Chappelle’s Show in which the musician plays an electric guitar to an all-Black barbershop to see how its clientele responds (hint: they weren’t into it). More recently, Mayer and Chappelle — often described as “longtime friends” – have performed as the musical/comedy duo Controlled Danger.
Meanwhile, Cooper and Cohen interviewed Chappelle in January as part of their now annual New Year’s Eve coverage on CNN, in which they asked Chappelle about Kevin Hart pulling out of his Oscars gig following criticism of his anti-LGBTQ+ jokes. Cohen asked if he would consider hosting instead.
“If they’re mad at Kevin, I think they’d be untenable if I did it,” Chappelle remarked.
Coincidentally enough, the Hart controversy was just one of the many subjects Chappelle discusses in Sticks and Stones. In the special, he claims that Hart — who stepped down from hosting the Academy Awards in December after a series of tweets resurfaced in which he uses the words “gay,” “homo,” and “fag” as perjoratives — was “four tweets shy of perfection.”
“Clearly Kevin was joking,” Chapelle said. Later in the special, he asked: “Why is it that I can say the word ni***er with impunity but I can’t say fa****t?”
The comedian goes onto say that Hart had to pull out of the Oscars because he broke an “unwritten and unspoken rule” of Hollywood.” He added, “You are never, ever allowed to upset the alphabet people.”
It only devolved from there. After those remarks, Chappelle returned to a favorite topic: mocking transgender people. While he claimed that he feels “bad” for trans individuals, he also remarked that they are “confusing” and that the concept of being “born in the wrong body” is a “f***ng hilarious predicament.”
Chappelle only continued punching down by asking what would happen if Lebron James suddenly “changed his gender” to female. “Can he stay in the NBA?” he asked. “Or does he have to go to the WNBA, where he will score 800 points a game?”
There’s also a part where Chappelle compares transitioning to pretending to be Asian, while doing a broad caricature of a Chinese accent. It’s a lot.
Chappelle’s broad range of targets included Jussie Smollett, R. Kelly, and Michael Jackson accusers Wade Robeson and James Safechuck. The material on Kelly (who he thinks is guilty) is better than most, but on the subject of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, Chappelle said, “I don’t believe these motherf***ers.”
The stand-up comic suggested that even if Jackson did do it, Robson and Safechuck should be grateful it was a famous celebrity who allegedly molested them.
“I know more than half the people in this room have been molested in their lives, but it wasn’t no goddamn Michael Jackson, was it?” he said. “This kid got his dick sucked by the King of Pop. All we get is awkward Thanksgivings for the rest of our lives.”
Jackson’s accusers have responded to Chappelle by claiming that the comedian can “say whatever he wants.” Robson told TMZ, “It reveals him, not us.”
“I’m heartbroken for all those children who look to see how they will be received when they finally find the courage to speak out about their sexual abuse,” Safechuck added. “I just want to reach out to other survivors and let them know that we can’t let this type of behavior silence us. Together we are strong.”
Cooper, however, has not responded to any of the tweets calling on the comic to apologize since the Netflix special dropped four days ago. Journalist Ernest Owens said the special furthers the “dehumanization, marginalization, and stigmatization” of trans people, while film critic Danielle Solzman wrote that it was “infuriating to see Netflix give money to a man punching down at a marginalized community.”
“There's a right way and a wrong way when it comes to trans jokes,” she wrote. “His way is harmful and only ends up hurting us.”