Dave Chappelle’s Pernicious Antisemitism

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November 14, 2022

5 min read

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The comedian is far too smart to be as crude as Kanye, and that’s what makes his offensive jokes more damaging and dangerous.

Dave Chappelle’s recent SNL monologue isn’t the first time he included antisemitic jokes in his routine. He made some offensive jokes a year ago in his Netflix special, but he got away with it since people were more outraged by his transphobic jokes.

Don’t let him get away with it this time.

It’s one thing to be a crude, ranting, incoherent antisemite like Kanye West; his raving hatred is apparent to all, and his business partners – and most of the world at large – recognized the need to denounce him and sever contact, despite the hefty financial loss. Dave Chappelle’s antisemitism is far more pernicious.

The astute comedian is too smart to be as crude as Kanye, as the opening lines of his SNL monologue make clear. He started by reading a brief statement: “I denounce antisemitism in all its forms and I stand with my friends in the Jewish community. And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.”

With humor and deflection, Chappelle repeated the same antisemitic tropes that he had just denounced.

It also gave him carte blanche to proceed to repeat the same antisemitic tropes that he just denounced. But he dressed it up with humor and deflection.

After making fun of Kanye and joking about his friendships with Jews, he lobs this joke:

“I’ve been to Hollywood and—no one get mad at me—I’m just telling you what I saw, it’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot. But that doesn’t mean anything! You know what I mean? Because there are a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, it doesn’t mean we run the place… I could see that if you had some kind of issue you know I mean you might go out to Hollywood and your mind might start connecting some kind of lines and you could maybe adopt the delusion that the Jews run show business it's not a crazy thing to think but it's a crazy thing to say out loud.”

What is Chappelle saying exactly? Is he denouncing the notion that Jews run Hollywood, or is he saying yes, it’s true – you’re not crazy to think that, you’re just crazy if you say it out loud. Bottom line, he is normalizing antisemitism, but in a funny, somewhat obfuscated manner.

The worst joke was his take on Kyrie Irving. He said, “Kanye got in so much trouble that Kyrie got in trouble. This is where I draw the line. I know the Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world, but you can’t blame that on Black Americans. You just can’t… Kyrie Irving's black ass was nowhere near the Holocaust. In fact, he's not even certain it existed.”

Leaving aside his mocking of Holocaust denial (could you imagine the outrage if a Jewish comedian mocked the suffering of Black slavery?), Chappelle is completely distorting what happened to Kyrie Irving.

Leaving aside his mocking of Holocaust denial (could you imagine the outrage if a Jewish comedian mocked the suffering of Black slavery?), Chappelle is completely distorting what happened to Kyrie Irving. Not one Jew blamed him or Black Americans for the Holocaust. That is absurd and dismisses the real issues that not only Jews but the NBA itself had with Irving’s actions.

People were rightly upset that Irving was promoting an antisemitic film that questions the veracity of the Holocaust and claims that today’s Jews are not the “real Jews.” The true Jews are African Americans, a central belief of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. And when pushed, Irving refused to apologize and denounce antisemitism.

Through a series of clever jokes and bashing Kanye West, the easy target that he is, Dave Chappelle essentially blamed the Jews for a mob attack against a fellow Black American – an outright lie, and pushed the same antisemitic tropes that got West in trouble in the first place, wrapped in the righteous banner of free speech. As he concluded, “It shouldn’t be this scary to talk about anything. It’s making my job incredibly difficult. And to be honest with you, I’m sick of talking to a crowd like this. I love you to death and I thank you for your support. And I hope they don’t take anything away from me… whoever they are.”

His last line is wide open to interpretation. Who are the malevolent forces controlling the media, taking away Kanye’s business contracts, and forcing comedians like Chappelle to shut up and not speak his truth?

Perhaps he gave that answer at the beginning of his monologue: “Early in my career I learned that there are two words in the English language that you should never say together in sequence. Those words are ‘the’ and ‘Jews’. I've never heard someone do good after they said that.”

Mention “The Jews”, and they’ll come after you.

Normalizing Antisemitism

Many people disagree with my assessment and thought Chappelle's monologue was hysterical and on point. But I'm not the only one giving him some heat. The ADL criticized it for “popularizing antisemitism.” Time Out New York theater editor and critic Adam Feldman tweeted my exact thoughts: “That Dave Chappelle SNL monologue probably did more to normalize anti-Semitism than anything Kanye said. Everyone knows Kanye is nuts. Chappelle posits himself as a teller of difficult truths. It’s worse.”

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if instead of laughter Chappelle was met with a vocal and collective string of boos?

Speaking out clearly against the Dave Chappelle’s of the world is more important than denouncing the Kanye Wests. I’m not judging the live audience that mostly laughed at Chappelle’s jokes (except notably his Kyrie Irving bit), but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if instead of laughter Chappelle was met with a vocal and collective string of boos?

Don’t give any form of antisemitism a pass.

Counterpoint: Dave Chappelle Is Not an Antisemite

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