This week, video was released of stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle’s acceptance of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in late October, and Chappelle’s fierce and hilarious defense of the First Amendment and the right for comedy to be no-holds-barred is on full display.
Chapelle began, “I like not knowin’ what’s going to happen. I like makin’ memories. Sometime I do all this crazy s*** around my colleagues just so they can tell their friends I did it. Rather than talk about myself, just briefly, I want to just talk about my genre. Stand-up comedy is an incredibly American genre. I don’t think any other country can produce this many comedians. Unbeknownst to many people in this audience, I don’t think there’s opinion that exists in this country that is not represented in a comedy club by somebody. Each and every one of you has a chance of bein’ in the room.”
He continued, “We watch you guys fight, but when we’re together, we talk it out. I know comics that are very racist, and I watch ‘em on stage, and everyone’s laughin’, I’m like, that mother f***** means it. (laughter) Don’t get mad at ‘em, don’t hate ‘em, we go upstairs and have a beer and sometimes I even appreciate the artistry that they paint their racist opinions with.”
The money quote came next: “Man, it’s not that serious. The First Amendment is first for a reason. The Second Amendment is just in case the first one doesn’t work out. (laughter).”
Chappell commented on the polarity dividing the country, “We gotta let some air out of the ball, man. The country’s getting a little tight. It doesn’t feel like it’s ever felt in my lifetime. So tonight, I am honored that my colleagues are here in comedy and in music. (applause). And I want everybody in America right now to look at me. Look at me smoking indoors. (laughter) I didn’t ask anybody; I just did it; what are they gonna do, kick me out before I get the prize? This is called leverage. (laughter, applause).”
Chappelle continued with an impassioned defense of stand-up comedy: “There’s something so true about this genre when done correctly: That I will fight anybody that gets in a true practitioner of this art form’s way because I know you’re wrong. This is the truth and you are obstructing it. I’m not talking about the content; I’m talking about the art form, do you understand? Do we have an agreement? (applause).”
He quipped, “And what I really wanted to say tonight, and I’m glad I get the platform to do it: I’m gay. I am gay and I can’t wait to see what this does for my career being gay like this. (laughter).”
Chappelle recalled being a sensitive child and his mother teaching him, “Son, sometimes you have to be a lion so you can be the lamb you really are.” He continued, “I talk this s*** like a lion. I’m not afraid of any of you; when it comes word to word, I will gab with the best of ‘em, just so I can chill and be me.”
And that’s why I love my art form, ‘cause I understand every practitioner, whether I agree with them or not, I know where they’re comin’ from. They wanna be heard; they got somethin’ to say; there’s somethin’ they noticed; they just want to be understood. Love this genre. It saved my life.