Home amendment ‘The First Amendment is first for a reason’: Dave Chappelle defends comedy

‘The First Amendment is first for a reason’: Dave Chappelle defends comedy

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For every Twitter user arguing that free speech doesn’t include hate speech, Dave Chappelle has a response.

When he began his latest stand-up routine, Chappelle immediately took aim at his own audience, mocking listeners’ inability to handle offense.

“If you do anything wrong in your life, duh, and I find out about it, I’m gonna try to take everything away from you, and I don’t care when I find out. Could be today, tomorrow, 15, 20 years from now. If I find out, you’re f—ing-duh-finished,” he said, imitating the luminaries of cancel culture. “That’s what the audience sounds like to me.”

Media outlets and public figures criticized Chappelle for his Netflix special Sticks & Stones, which placed an irreverent lens over seemingly every hot-button issue in America, from transgenderism to abortion. His comedy seemed targeted to offend as if to dare audiences to tell him to shut up.

The point of the stand-up was clear: If bad people don’t have the right to free speech, neither does Chappelle, and neither do the rest of us.

Chappelle knows he’s been offending people his whole career, so when he accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, it was fitting that he would take the opportunity to defend free speech.

We all have a right to say what we want, even comedians who he says are “very racist.”

“[I] don’t get mad at ’em, don’t hate on ’em,” Chappelle said. “Man, it’s not that serious. The First Amendment is first for a reason. Second Amendment is just in case the first one doesn’t work out.”

The Mark Twain Prize, awarded last year to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain.”

For his decades-long career of transgressive comedy, Chappelle certainly deserves it. He’s not only humorous, like Twain, but he also points to the societal problems we don’t want to address, echoing the great American author — whose work, by the way, was viewed in his time as too edgy and vulgar by many readers and librarians.

Chappelle’s power as a comedian is to say the things listeners feel that they can’t. Even if they choose to exercise the First Amendment by criticizing him, viewers will do well to note the powerful truth underlying his humor.

It may be an increasingly foreign concept to the rest of America, but Chappelle understands one critical reality. The First Amendment cannot protect the right to criticize those speaking badly unless it first allows everyone to speak.