It is somewhat unclear who Dave Chappelle’s new comedy specials are for. There’s definitely a point to direct it to old fans of Chappelle’s Show: not only was Chappelle a game-changer of a comic, but there’s also nostalgic value in aiming it at this audience. There’s also an aim for fans who weren’t around when Chappelle was in his prime. As cliché as it is, Chappelle pokes fun at a 24 year-old in the audience. The content of Chappelle’s jokes vary from the self-aware, topical humor, and material about people that would seem irrelevant had it not been for recent events bringing them into prominence (i.e. O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby). Both of Chappelle’s new specials find a pleasing middle ground that sets him both as an older comic trying to reach a new audience and someone acting as if he never left.
Let’s begin with the material that make it seem as if Chappelle has never left. Chappelle says a lot of offensive shit during both of these specials. When discussing political arguments with his wife’s gay friends, Chappelle says: “Go outside, talk that over amongst yourselves, and whichever one of you is gayer, that’s the wife.” It’s kind of simple and a little homophobic, and Chappelle’s delivery of it is strong enough to elicit a laugh. This leads into Chappelle’s discussion of LGBTQ culture. Even though Chappelle is supportive of all LGBTQ culture, he doesn’t really understand what the Q actually stands for. Also some of his material about transgender people leads into transphobia. That’s not to say he’s always transphobic, and his descriptions of being unable to relate are hilarious: “Let’s go to the hospital chop our dicks off and make pussies out of them shits…WHAT?”
He also has his interest in making light of current political climate, as Chappelle’s Show would poke fun at various political moments. Whether Chappelle is talking about disliking ISIS videos on YouTube or the Ray Rice controversy, Chappelle is a master of redirection and turning serious moments silly. These are all moments that seem like Chappelle has been trudging along, barely changing his style and retaining an audience because he has a tried and true formula. Deep in the Heart of Texas is more so old Chappelle. It’s a traditional style special that’s packed with jokes.
Even though The Age of Spin is more of a modern special, Heart of Texas has moments that show Chappelle poking fun at his growth. Smoking a cigarette, Chappelle utters, “Is the word pussy offensive?” He covers topical humor with a little bit of his age showing. The Age of Spin plays out more like a modern comedy special with recurring jokes. When he discusses a superhero who “saves more than he rapes” is close to the opening and closing of the set. He also tells the story of each time he met O.J. Simpson throughout the show, which is almost like the glue that holds the special together. So much of the material in The Age of Spin is storytelling based, including a hilariously bitter story about seeing Kevin Hart with his son.
Also, to kick off the third act of the special, Chappelle gets serious, running through people rising up against the government in the sixties, mind-expanding drugs, and assassinations of anyone that tries to stand up. Despite following a tried and true formula, Chappelle shows he’s still one of the best comics around. Unlike Mike Birbiglia or Amy Schumer, Chappelle’s serious moment is a rousing call-to-arms-like moment, and he uses it to transition into his material about Bill Cosby. Most of Chappelle’s material shows a struggle with his own relationship with Cosby’s work, and he’s strangely sympathetic. It’s a little uncomfortable, because he ends the set with discussing a large amount of the good things Cosby did for the African-American community. Despite condemning Cosby’s rapes, his sympathetic ending for Cosby is a new way of shocking in comedy. Chappelle made the modern comedy special his own in this, in the way that only Dave Chappelle can.