Comedian Dave Chappelle was due to perform a sell-out stand-up show last night*. But just hours before he took to the stage, the show was called off. We don’t know why Chappelle’s show was axed at the last minute. But we can read between the lines of the statement put out by First Avenue, the venue in Minneapolis in the United States, where Chappelle was due to perform.
‘We hear you and we are sorry. We know we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we know we let you down. We are not just a black box with people in it, and we understand that First Ave is not just a room, but meaningful beyond our walls,’ the venue said in its statement. ‘We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, but in honouring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have.’
Chappelle, of course, upset the mob last year when his Netflix special, The Closer, was judged to be transphobic. It was nothing of the sort, though Chapelle did poke fun at transgender activism which, let’s face it, is a fair enough target.
Was the backlash to this show the reason why First Avenue bowed to the mob? It seems likely. Of course, the venue itself just succeeds in badmouthing Chappelle rather than listing his specific ‘crimes’. But what we do know is that protests were planned to take place outside First Avenue as a result of Chappelle’s comments about trans activists.
‘Show up tonight to let Dave Chappelle, his fans and First Ave know their hatred isn’t welcome here,’ said one activist on Twitter, before adding: ‘Cover your face and stay dangerous’.@MnUrising (Twitter)
First Avenue’s apology will never be good enough for these people, many of whom probably aren’t even likely to go to a show at First Avenue anyway. But in seeking to please the mob, First Avenue succeed in alienating customers. What for? ‘The First Avenue Team,’ we are told in the statement, ‘have worked hard to make our venues the safest spaces in the country’.
Really? Not for Dave Chappelle, they haven’t. A black comedian has been made unwelcome and unwanted apparently because he tells jokes about a group so powerful that they can cancel his show. The freedom of expression First Avenue claims to prize is worthless if it can be curtailed on a whim by angry people who have become used to getting everything they want.
The problem of artists being cancelled is widespread. It has also taken root in the UK, as Ricky Gervais found out earlier this year following his own Netflix special, SuperNature. This worrying trend isn’t just confined to comedy: the campaign against JK Rowling, who has been brave enough to speak out against the trans mob, is relentless.
The truth is that the once noble approach of ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ has been twisted and distorted out of all recognition. To this activist mob, equality is power; diversity is conformity and inclusion is excluding a comedian from his theatre.
But like six-year-old children having a group tantrum, they only have power because other people give into them. They need boundaries just like children, and sometimes they need to be told, ‘no’. Otherwise they will continue to attract every tinpot anarchist in town. For the sake of transgender people, and genuine transgender activism, they need to be stopped.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.
* This article was first published by The Spectator on 21 July 2022: Dave Chappelle’s latest cancellation should trouble us all.