My Chappelle Show

This past weekend I got the opportunity to see an iconic, much beloved comedian stand on a stage for sixty minutes and tell us some jokes. I’d been jittery and achingly ecstatic for the night since the idea came to fruition. We were going to see Dave mothafuckin Chappelle.

I got someone to cover my shift well in advance, re-watched some classic sketches from the innovator himself, looked back fondly on my impressionable time watching said show as I just began discovering my love for comedy. My smile would have to be surgically unhinged for the 24 hours leading up to the show. Like so many millenials, my view tends to get obstructed by the foggy guise of nostalgia.

There’s danger in glorifying the past. Times and people change. Audiences change. If we’re aren’t open to that change, we’re doing a disservice, not just to ourselves, but to the hundreds of artists and dreamers with a spark, ready to ignite. Aside from the obvious “we must learn from our mistakes” bit, putting the past on a pedestal is a straight up lie. You do everything to replicate that warm feeling associated with a moment or song or show but memory is a fickle bitch. It’s not real. The fuzzy feels you associate with watching a show or a movie have a lot more to do with your environment. Did you actually like that movie or did you just like the experience of watching it with an infinite amount of twizzlers and that cute boy from school? Imagine getting food poisoning at a popular restaurant you used to frequent. You have great “memories” there but they’re now overshadowed by the days you spent in the hospital trying to re-hydrate after one ill-prepared meal.

Every ounce of me was ready to replicate that feeling of watching Chappelle Show on Comedy Central with my buddies back in my hometown. Instead, I got a bout of food poisoning and I think it’ll be a little while before I go back.

While his set was underwhelming, it’s not the duration or delivery that missed. It wasn’t even his attitude or tone. I’ve got to say, Dave Chappelle genuinely seems like a wonderful, kind human. Granted, I don’t know him, but he appears to be a stand up guy with no ill-will towards anyone. Much like the restaurant, I’m sure they had no intention of sending me to the hospital. Chappelle even prefaces *red flag* that he has no intention of offending anyone. And I believe him.

However, he misses the mark with me when he stands there and starts joking about discussing trans lives. Then proceeds to do so for a quarter of his set. He doesn’t hate the trans community, or the LGBT community. He doesn’t want harm to come their way or for human rights to be denied. He isn’t a bad guy. He just doesn’t get it. And that is just enough for me to walk away.

Not only does he completely miss the memo about people, you know, being born  transgender- he made it sound like picking between lunch specials (Hmmm, I guess I’ll take the Cunty Club Sandwich because that line is shorter, kthnxbye!)– but his comparison of black lives and trans lives furthers the “us versus them” narrative. By doing so, he is completely erasing the existence of an entire group of people who are fighting for their lives. It’s regressive, dangerous and ignorant. Intersectionality is imperative and for someone with a platform to have such a politically charged setlist, you gotta know your shit. Your experience as a black man in America will not be negated by acknowledging the plight of trans people of color as well. He says he has “no problem with trans people but rather the conversation around trans people.”

I do too, man. I do too.

Look, I know comedians aren’t here to please everyone and that some older ones believe we live in a *too* politically correct society. I get it, believe me. I usually fight for the freedom to say fucked up things. But not at the expense of another person’s life. Not in the current political climate. Not in a city that prides itself on being a blue dot in a red state but defies intersectionality and welcomes gentrification. Not for a laugh. Not anymore. Not now.

 

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It’s You, Not Me: Why I Have to Break Up with SNL

I love television. Always have. As a little girl, the concept of playing outside and interacting with fellow small humans never quite registered with me. Telling me to “go outside and play” became a cold, cruel phrase akin to “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” You see, there’s the issue of being allergic to most insects, as well as the issue of interacting with people. Playing outside just meant ant bites, antibiotics, and anxiety. Each time I watched something I liked, I would mimic it. And not in a cute “oh look at her repeating the lines” kind of way. No, it was more of a “holy shit our 4 year old is acting out every character’s little mannerisms do we get help or encourage her to go into theatre” kind of thing. Thank god they went with the latter because I would have otherwise never discovered what was to be my lifelong obsession- Saturday Night Live.

One of the first sketches I ever remember watching is the most famous Wayne’s World bit with Aerosmith. I was probably about 10 years old watching the iconic piece in syndication. You know the one. It was ridiculous, original, fun and something I knew I wanted to be a part of. My lifelong love affair with SNL began.

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Saturday Night Live, “Wayne’s World” feat. Aerosmith, S. 15 Source: NBC

I looked up to the greats, practiced impressions and made Saturday night sleepovers a must- you gotta practice in front of an audience. The dream to join the likes of Gilda, Cheri, and Amy would be the only one I would fixate on for years to come. That’s why this break between SNL and I is one I take with caution and much conflicted thought.

You see, I like to think of myself as woke- seeing and calling out social injustices, getting all riled up against the patriarchy and systemic racism. However, when it comes to things I grew up with and have loved for years, I tend to earmuff it. I know, I’m awful. I mean, we all know Friends lacks diversity and tends to err on the side of misogyny and homophobia buuuut the coffee cups at Central Perk were always adorably large and quirky so…we’re good, right?

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“Yeah, this is NY and everyone in here is strangely white, but I’m smiling because I have a soup bowl for a mug. LOL” Friends, Netflix, Source: NBC

Like Friends and most sitcoms- many of which I fucking love, mind you- television shows are wholly a product of their time. Take I Love Lucy or Seinfeld, for example. Though both are brilliant, neither would bode terribly well in the social landscape that is 2016.  Saturday Night Live is no exception. The whole premise of the live sketch show is to literally comment on pop culture through comedy. While the batshit crazy 2016 election cycle has provided fodder on a golden platter, as most political seasons do, SNL- and I say this as a long time fan- get your shit together. It’s not 1987 anymore.

With time, the internet has gifted us with transparency. And what I see now is a writing staff and cast of predominantly *white* males– young, talented, socially and politically inclined, as most sketch writers are. But man, do you need perspective, SNL. You’ve had a diversity problem for years and it doesn’t just disappear by promoting writers and hiring a new, morally questionable, cast member. Even the most well meaning white man can be a feminist and join the fight as an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement but he will never know what it means to bleed or be fearful. This is privilege. This is where you earmuff it. And this is where I start listening.

Whether you like it or not, SNL, we need more content being created that reflects our country, not just our ridiculous, albeit terrifying, presidential election. Now before you get all defensive, I will be the first to acknowledge the beauty of the post-election episode with Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest. I applaud you for opening your door and minds to a perspective on the racial divide in this country from the man who does it best. It felt like I was watching The Chappelle Show once more, and I thank him you for that.

However, the material in the weeks prior to the election was laid out for you and the unfortunate reality is that you didn’t have to do much of anything for the sketches. That’s not on you. Kudos on Baldwin and McKinnon, really. But man, you royally fucked up on the whole “having Trump on your show” thing. You remember that? Because a lot of us marginalized groups sure do. Keeping him on as a host following his immigration comments to boost ratings is cheap. When concerned and disgusted citizens protested outside of 30 Rock after Trump had said [fill in the blank with bigoted/sexist/ethnocentric/fucked up statement], you did nothing. Yes, he got the minimum amount of air time allotted but he should have had none to begin with.

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Saturday Night Live, Donald Trump, S.41 Source: NBC

Though you’ve made your stance on Trump clear in the episodes thereafter, particularly in the haunting Leonard Cohen tribute, your laziness and cowardice are a massive part of the problem. But hey, you should feel *something* knowing you’re not alone. The airtime that you and countless of other media outlets gave him is after all how Trump became our president-elect.

You’ve had 41 entire seasons. Forty one seasons to tackle diversity, be cutting edge, address inequality, write for the people and establish maintain your integrity. Forty one. Yet you boast about hiring your “first Latina cast member” in 19- wait, no. It’s 2016.  Twenty SIXTEEN.

We’re on a break now, SNL, because in those 41 seasons you haven’t made a concerted effort to change- your host does it for you- but I have. Sure, we’ve had some great times. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve cry-laughed. You are a product of your time though. The fact of the matter is that I have outgrown you. And that introverted kid wanting to be on SNL one day should be able to see themselves on the screen. Sure, you can rely on your election coverage for ratings and a shit ton of Facebook shares but you only get this every four years. What’s next Saturday gonna look like? Are you going to earmuff it and go back to Koohl toilets (I have no words for that one)?

Your viewers are smarter and more diverse than you think. They want to see that their voice, their lives, their culture matters. Art matters. Words matter. And yes, comedy can be a form of escapism, but stereotypes are cheap and I genuinely think you’re better than that. You don’t have to wait for one of the most celebrated and proud Puerto Ricans to come on your show or for an iconic comic genius to host. Neither should be refreshing but it was.

Within the past five years, we have seen a resurgence, a renaissance if you will, of sketch comedy. So much so that in 2015, this type of programming was gifted their own Primetime Emmy category. For that kid who doesn’t like to play outside and has a whole lot of access to inappropriate TV, it’s comedy heaven. We have a choice to make. And so do you.

Though I hope this break is temporary and allows you time to mature, I won’t hold my breath. Goodnight and goodbye, dear friend.