Dave Chappelle and Comedians Remind Us Of The Sanctity Of Freedom Of Speech



Dave Chappelle and Comedians Remind Us Of The Sanctity Of Freedom Of Speech

One thing is for sure. For America to stay a place where freedom of speech is allowed - even encouraged - we need, as a culture, to allow such to occur. We don't have to agree with things said, we don't have to even listen to it if we don't want to, but we can't put up barriers between people arbitrarily and expect the notion of free expression to exist.


Dave Chappelle, one of the most accomplished comedians recently had a Netflix concert he gave in Atlanta. For an hour, Chappelle took the crowd through various topics floating on the surface and beneath the surface of American culture and politics. The Jesse Smollett hoax, the accusations against Michael Jackson, Kevin Hart, Louis C.K., abortion and child support, the #MeToo movement, the use of LGBT as a reference point, and the use of certain words allowed through Standards and Practices of the networks, were all part of his material.


Of prime importance is that he speaks as a commentator of the culture - as a stand-up comic - in the tradition of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy, and Richard Pryor. Topics are the seeds for a story, or a commentary, and are provided within the context of making people laugh--and laugh they did. The freedom of a comic special allows the normally off-limit topics to be addressed and when they are addressed with wit and sarcasm, the truth and value of airing thoughts become evident.


What exactly makes people laugh? That question has been a life long pursuit for me.  I have opened clubs in Los Angeles and other major cities.  I've talked with comics and their friends; with doormen and tourists; with students and their professors about what they think it is, that makes - or allows - people to laugh. One explanation, discussed at a college conference, involved what Shakespeare did. The plays were about history and tragedy and Kings and wars, but there was very often the presence of a commentator who made people laugh.


In a number of Shakespeare's plays there was either the "Clown"- a simple buffoon who smashed up against the prevailing social order causing laughter (think Jim Carrey) or there was the "Fool" - who provided comments and attitudes not expressed by the principal actors--the Kings and Dukes and Gentry of the time (think Dave Chappelle). The "fool" was no dummy and certainly no fool as we think of such. He provided insight as well as laughter through the very act of speaking of such things. Nothing was off-limits to the Clown who stumbled through custom or to the Fool who treated death and decay with the same abandon. Each acted out his discomfort at the rules of society. Each created an atmosphere in which the release of pent-up feelings or hidden emotions were allowed to erupt into the recklessness and freedom of "letting loose" with dogmas and rules of the time.


We will always need such talent to open the window and let the air in to circulate amongst the people. Laughter releases constriction and allows one to imagine alternative answers to questions and different perspectives on what we perceive to be "truth." The stand-up isn't obligated to provide the ruling class with their point of view; nor is he or she obligated to speak as a political creature on a podium. The stand-up's job is to make us laugh; to do so requires that he or she makes us think and feel "outside the box" so that we can rejoin the society refreshed by alternative options. Chappelle has been a skilled messenger since he was 17 performing at the Laugh Factory and, in his maturity; he has expanded the limits of discourse and the manner in which we approach political and social issues. We salute his continued use of his talent to keep freedom of speech flowing, since only by such efforts can a society be said to be truly free.

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