Leave it to Dave Chappelle to deliver another lesson about the importance of freedom of expression in America.
Late last week, Netflix quietly released another special from the comedian, a June 20th speech Chappelle delivered at his high school alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC.
Despite the controversy of his popular Netflix special ‘The Closer,’ which angered many left-leaning LGBT activists because of Chappelle’s jokes about transgender people, the school had planned to name its new theater the ‘Dave Chappelle Theater.’
In his speech, Chappelle recounted the last time he visited the school.
“The last time I came down, after ‘The Closer,’ when kids were mad at me, I got to tell you that was quite the day,” Chappelle said.
“The kids were screaming and yelling, I remember I said to the kids, ‘well, okay, what do you guys think I did wrong?’ and a line formed,” said Chappelle with a surprised expression on his face. He then started laughing along with the audience.
The comedian was clearly amused by the idea of a line forming to chastise him as if it was right on cue.
Chappelle continued, “These kids said everything, about gender and this, that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art. And this is my biggest gripe with this whole controversy with ‘The Closer,’ that you cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance from his words.”
Chappelle gave a hilarious example, “It would be like if we were reading the newspaper and they said ‘man shot in the face by a six-foot rabbit, expected to survive,’ we’d be like, ‘oh my God!’… and they never tell you it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon.”
He then said that taking “shots,” or enduring criticism was just part of the comedy business. But Chappelle also admitted that when the students yelled at him, “That day they hurt me when I heard those talking points coming out of these children’s faces, that really, sincerely hurt me.”
Chappelle seemed hurt not by the particulars of what the young people said, but by what had gotten into their heads.
“Because I know those kids didn’t come up with those words,” Chappelle noted. “They heard those words before.”
This is an important observation.
Whereas Boomers, Generation X, and older millennials may have grown up in a United States where expressions like “It’s a free country!” were common responses to language one might disagree with, the contemporary American Left and certainly the young Left increasingly seem to believe that speech they don’t like must be stamped out. This can take place in the form of canceling and mobs bullying people, as Left activists tried to do to Chappelle with little success, or even increasing support among some for the government to actively censor what it deems “disinformation.”
In other words, today’s “liberals” are getting further and further away from actual liberalism.
Younger people, high school students in this case, typically take their cues from older people they look up to and the larger bubble they inhabit. If free speech is now seen as a negative by large swaths of Democratic voters, expect children still developing their minds and identities to behave accordingly–meaning illiberally, in this context. Some on the Left have even begun to diminish the formerly universally unifying principle of free speech as a mere right-wing value.
Chappelle is likely right that the angry students he encountered “heard those words before.”
The controversial comedian then made a free expression declaration.
“The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it,” he insisted. “It has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right and my freedom of artistic expression.”
The Ellington alumni added, “It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavors in our noble professions.”
Chappelle said the kids didn’t know any better in their eagerness to stamp out freedom of expression.
“These kids didn’t understand that they were instruments of oppression,” Chappelle said. “I didn’t get mad at them. They’re kids. They’re freshmen. They’re not ready yet. They don’t know.”
He touted the free market—of ideas.
“I said to the kids that day, ‘If you have a better idea, express it. And you can beat me. It’s that easy. If you have more talent than me, then display it. And you can beat me.’ With certainty, this is what our genre (art) is about,” Chappelle explained.
Chappelle ultimately refused the honor of having the new theater named after him.
“Rather than giving this theater my name, I would like to give these students my message. To them,” he said.
He revealed a sign that showed the new facility would be called instead, the “Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.”
“I want that for myself. I want that for every student that’s educated at this school,” Chappelle declared.