Dave Chappelle didn’t exactly receive a hero’s welcome earlier this week when he returned to his former high school in Washington, D.C., and talked with students there about their concerns over his controversial Netflix special, The Closer.
During The Closer, Chappelle tried to extend an olive branch to the trans community after spending years making trans people a recurring theme in his stand-up routines. He talked about the lessons he’d learned through his friendship with the late trans comedian Daphne Dorman, who committed suicide in 2019.
But the comic firebrand also defended controversial comments Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling once made about trans women, and he identified himself as “Team TERF,” an acronym for trans exclusionary radical feminist. Chappelle also made a joke comparing trans women’s genitals to plant-based meat substitutes.
Earlier this fall, students from Chappelle’s alma mater, Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Northwest Washington, staged a protest after hearing about an event during which the school’s theater would be renamed in honor of their famous graduate. That occasion and the facility’s renaming were postponed in response to the backlash.
Politico’s Playbook newsletter reported early Thursday that Chappelle received a mixed chorus of cheers and boos two days prior, when he appeared before an estimated 580 students at the school.
Those who showed up Tuesday had to lock their cell phones in special pouches to prevent them from recording the assembly, according to Politico, which confirmed details about the event with two students who attended, one of their parents, and Carla Sims, a spokesperson for Chappelle.
Politico said the students asked to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation from the high school. Ellington reps did not immediately respond to requests for comment from theGrio.
About eight students asked Chappelle questions during a Q&A session, a spokesperson for the school told Politico.
One student reportedly called him a “bigot” during the 60-minute dialogue in the high school’s auditorium. “I’m 16, and I think you’re childish, you handled it like a child,” the student said, according to those who were in attendance and a Chappelle spokesperson.
“My friend, with all due respect, I don’t believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day,” Chappelle reportedly replied — a response that appeared to upset some students present, who were hoping for a sort of apology from the comedian.
“Your comedy kills,” another student reportedly told Chappelle.
“N—–s are killed every day. … The media’s not here, right?’” the comedian reportedly chimed back.
One student’s father told Politico that Chappelle’s use of the N-word in the presence of high school students was a problem for him. “He was being dead serious and using the N-word on the record. What kind of judgment is the school showing to allow that?” said the father, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his child’s identity.
In response to that criticism, Chappelle’s spokesperson suggested the comedian’s appearance was good for the school.
“They are complaining that he talked and said the N-word. If anything, Dave is putting the school on the map,” the spokesperson told Politico.
The students who spoke with Politico said they were too intimidated by the comedian to address him at the assembly, during which they said he made a joke about a young person who left the dialogue early. “He could tell we were nervous,” one told the outlet. “It was a huge power imbalance of this grown man and his camera crew — and these 14- to 18-year-olds without their phones, just high school kids.”
School spokesperson Savannah Overton told Politico Chappelle’s supporters at the event became the “silent majority” after he invited his critics to ask him questions. “Our principal was approached by several students after the assembly who were disappointed that they were not able to voice their support for Chappelle in this forum,” she said.
Chappelle reportedly took a less confrontational tone toward the end of the event, when he denounced death threats some student received previously after protesting against him.
“His whole tone changed,” one student told Politico. “He said, ‘This is my family and whether they know it or not I love these kids. … I don’t want to hear about any threats to these kids. These kids don’t deserve that.’”
As he was leaving the assembly, Chappelle reportedly gave Thanksgiving meals to students and staff who attended. He also reportedly gave three tickets to each of the students who were present to attend a screening of his Untitled documentary at Capital One Arena the same night.
Story & Photo Credit: Chauncey Alcorn/thegrio