As the host of a recent episode of “Saturday Night Live,” Dave Chappelle devoted much of his 15-minute monologue to the widely denounced antisemitic statements and activity involving rapper Kanye West and NBA star Kyrie Irving.
But on the “SNL” stage, the iconic comedian delivered jokes about the disproportionate number of Jews in Hollywood, leading many to accuse him of using antisemitic tropes that fuel Jew hatred.
At the start of his Nov. 12 appearance, Chappelle took out a piece of paper and said, “Before I start tonight, I just wanted to read a brief statement that I prepared. I denounce antisemitism in all its forms, and I stand with my friends in the Jewish community.” He paused, then added, “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.”
The comedian joked about what’s permissible and not permissible to say about Jews. “If they’re Black, then it’s a gang. If they’re Italian, it’s a mob. But if they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it,” Chappelle said.
All this led some to argue Chappelle was normalizing antisemitism and sympathizing with West and Irving more than he was poking fun at the perpetuators of anti-Jewish tropes.
Others defended Chappelle.
The Journal reached out to several Jewish comedians and asked for their takes about the now-infamous monologue.
“It might be because I’m so sick of ‘the woke,’ over-the-top, everyone being offended by everything [that] I am a little less guarded about these things.”
“It might be because I’m so sick of ‘the woke,’ over-the-top, everyone being offended by everything [that] I am a little less guarded about these things,” comedian Avi Liberman said in a phone interview. “But the litmus test is, ‘Is it funny or not?’ If it’s funny, I don’t have a problem with it, and I just found it funny.”
Liberman said he was impressed with the topicality of the material. Given Chappelle was joking about events that had happened over the past couple of weeks, he must’ve written the jokes quickly, he said.
“It’s lose-lose to talk about,” comedian Elon Gold told the Journal. “Everybody is right, and words matter. If you’re angry at Dave, you’re right, because words matter and lead to real-world consequences. If you loved Dave and laughed and enjoyed the comedy, you’re right too, because comedy is supposed to talk about what’s relevant and what’s happening. Even if what’s happening out there is ugly, it’s a comedian’s job to talk about it.”
Comedian Mark Schiff also watched the monologue. He said Chapelle’s statement implying Jews place blame on the African American community for their history of persecution was “ridiculous.”
“Who is blaming the Blacks for the Holocaust? I don’t know anybody who is blaming Black people for the Holocaust,” he said. “It was a ridiculous statement.”
“I wasn’t a fan of it,” Schiff, a regular Journal contributor, said. “All the time he spent on the Jews, it sounded like a comedy sermon. He thinks he needs to teach us things. I come from a different school. All I care about is entertaining people. They criticize people like me for not taking on issues. I don’t care about issues when I’m entertaining. I just want them to sit back and laugh. Chappelle had the opposite effect of entertaining me.”
New York-based comic Ariel Elias described Chappelle as attention-seeking. She even questioned the judgement of “SNL” for giving him a platform.
“Dave Chappelle wants to be a part of the zeitgeist, wants to be controversial, and we are all just giving oxygen to his flames,” she said in an email. “I think the bigger issue isn’t what he had to say, but why the people in charge at ‘SNL’ decided that Chappelle’s voice was the one we needed to hear from right now. His monologue was the most watched of the season. So maybe we need to ask ourselves some questions about why we keep giving this man the attention he obviously craves.”
This was not the first time Chappelle’s comedy has caused controversy. In his 2021 Netflix special, “The Closer,” he offended the transgender community, which prompted LGBTQ groups to call for the special’s removal from the service.
The irony is that many in the Jewish community, who are now criticizing Chappelle, supported Chappelle during the last call for the comedian’s cancellation, Gold said.
“I’m sure there were many in the Jewish community when Dave was going after the trans community who said, ‘Calm down, take a joke,’” Gold said. “The world is looking at us now, saying, ‘Calm down, relax Jews, take a joke.’ The world doesn’t get how we are under attack in the streets, in our synagogues, in our houses of worship all over the world, in bus stations in Israel. That hatred is deadly serious and not to be joked about, but again, that’s our job, our job is to joke about everything, especially what’s happening now.“
A few months ago, Gold attended comedian Bob Saget’s funeral. Chappelle was there, too, saying Kaddish. Gold said the African American comedian isn’t an antisemite.
But the larger issue is the tendency to call for a comic’s cancellation the moment he or she says something making people uncomfortable. The Jewish community, Gold believes, ought to have a more nuanced response than demanding a comedian’s cancellation.
“Cancel-culture is anti-Jewish and anti-Jewish teachings, which is all about teshuvah.”
– Elon Gold
“Cancel culture is anti-Jewish and anti-Jewish teachings, which is all about teshuvah,” Gold said.
A comedian who declined to be identified was hesitant about censoring anyone who works in comedy.
“From Don Rickles to Lenny Bruce, comedians have always pushed buttons,” they said. “Dictating what they can and cannot say sets a scary precedent for people who are supposed to be pointing out truths that make us uncomfortable.”