A little insight and self-deprecation go a long way toward crafting great comedy. Dave Chappelle displays plenty of both.
During his much-lauded but short-lived sketch show on Comedy Central, Chappelle undermined racism by unfurling its absurdity for laughs. He did so in a way not seen since Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.
There’s a fine line between satirizing racism and mocking an audience you believe to be racist. Far too many comics end up doing the latter. By contrast, Chappelle’s approach assumes the best of his audience. That doesn’t necessarily imply an absence of racial prejudice, but a harnessing of it. Chappelle doesn’t imagine a world where racists and their victims vie for dominance. Rather, he perceives the world as it is, a place where everyone harbors some degree of prejudice without necessarily being evil. That’s where he conjures humor from, our shared prejudicial experience.
Such insight manifested again in Chappelle’s opening monologue while hosting “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend. Chappelle addressed the electoral victory of Donald Trump in terms that were apprehensive but accepting. “I’m wishing Donald Trump luck, and I’m gonna give him a chance,” Chappelle said at the close of his remarks. He also noted how surreal it is to watch white people riot in Oregon. “Amateurs,” he called them.