Dave Chappelle “Came Out” as Gay. Let the Backlash Begin.

In a new clip of the comedian accepting the Mark Twain Prize, he jokes how he can't wait to see what being gay does for his career.

Dave Chappelle was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for Humor back in October of last year, but PBS broadcasted the ceremony on Tuesday. It included the comedian’s acceptance speech—along with a coming-out of sorts.

Chappelle spoke sincerely about his love of stand-up comedy as an art form, and how he would “fight anybody” who gets in the way of “a true practitioner” of said art form because he knows the critics are wrong.

“This is the truth and you are obstructing it,” Chappelle explained. “I’m not talking about the content, I’m talking about the art form.”

Then he made a shocking “announcement.”

“And what I really wanted to say, and I’m glad I get the platform to do it: I’m gay,” Chappelle said. “I am gay and I can’t wait to see what this does for my career, being gay like this.”

Of course, Chappelle was just joking, but what exactly would being gay do for his career? He’d probably be the butt (pun mildly intended) of any number of jokes by his fellow comedians, or he’d be applauded for being brave. Or, because it’s 2020 and we hope to believe in better angels, nothing at all would happen. And what could happen to him at this point, after having received the highest award for an art form he loves so?

The Mark Twain Prize recognizes comedians who have had an impact on American society, with past winners including Richard Pryor (1998), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Lily Tomlin (2003), Tina Fey (2010), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Eddie Murphy (2015), and last year’s recipient, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

His win puts Chappelle in some esteemed company, and among all stand-up comedians—both alive and dead—he’s regarded as, if not the best, one of the best. His “coming-out” was most likely a response to the flack he’s gotten for his previous Netflix specials and stand-up routines, which featured jokes he’s made about the LGBTQ community.

The night before he received the prize, Chappelle performed a set at the club where it all started, the DC Improv.

“The first show in this very room, I was the first comedian on stage. It was me, a guy named Brian Regan, and some dyke named Ellen DeGeneres,” Chappelle began. “We didn’t know she was gay back then. We were all trying to get some pussy.”
 

Knowing full well that calling Ellen a “dyke” is the kind of provocation that he courts and sometimes craves, Chappelle then launched into a spiel about comedy’s significance to our culture.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I thought this was a comedy club,” he continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, this might be America’s last safe place to say what you feel like saying, and laugh at what you feel like laughing [at]. This is sacred ground.”

He may be right. The great thing about America is that you are supposed to say what you feel like saying, and you are supposed to laugh at what you think is funny. And conversely, you can not laugh at what you don’t find funny at all. Maybe you just find Chappelle’s frequent jabs at the gays to be easy, or lazy, or offensive, or just plain unnecessary. He’s not wrong, you’re not wrong. But the point of it all is, can this in some way start a conversation?

Regardless, Dave Chappelle has the right to say what he feels, just as his audience has the right to interpret what he says as they see fit. Sacred ground or not.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat