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Dave Chappelle refuses to have his name on high school theatre following backlash

‘The idea that my name will be turned into an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is untenable to me’

Peony Hirwani
Tuesday 21 June 2022 06:50 BST
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Dave Chappelle has refused to have a new theatre at his high school be named after him following student backlash to his controversial Netflix comedy special, The Closer.

On Monday (20 June), it was initially reported that the 48-year-old comedian’s alma mater Duke Ellington High would name its new theatre after him.

However, during a dedication ceremony for the venue later that day, the comedian announced that he would not place his name on the building. Instead, it will be called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.

In November last year, Chappelle’s high school had to postpone his planned appearance at a fundraiser over threats of a student walk-out.

The Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown said students were uncomfortable with Chappelle’s remarks on transgender people in The Closer.

According to The Washington Post, Chappelle spoke to the audience on Monday about how he thinks his work has been analysed.

“I saw in the newspaper that a man who was dressed in women’s clothing threw a pie at the Mona Lisa and tried to deface it. And it made me laugh and I thought, ‘It’s like The Closer,’ ” he said, claiming that his Netflix special was unfairly portrayed in the press.

“You cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance,” he said.

Dave Chappelle (Getty Images)

Chappelle revealed that he decided not to have his name on the school over the weekend, but added: “The Ellington family is my family.”

He said that he did not want any students to see his name on the building and feel bad. “The idea that my name will be turned into an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is untenable to me,” he said.

Last year, after Duke Ellington High’s students criticised Chappelle, he responded by making light of the situation at a show in Indianapolis, saying he “can’t even raise money for children”.

According to The Indianapolis Star, he added: “They’re cancelling stuff I didn’t even want to do.”

The school had originally planned to cancel the fundraiser, but the comedian has been a big supporter of the school over the years, donating $100,000 and giving it one of his Emmy Awards in 2017.

In a statement on its website, the school wrote: “As a learning institution that champions inclusivity, diversity, equity and belonging, we care deeply about protecting the well-being and dignity of every member of our student body, faculty and community.

“We also believe moving forward with the event, originally scheduled for 23 November, 2021, without first addressing questions and concerns from members of the Ellington community, would be a missed opportunity for a teachable moment.”

In his comedy special, Chappelle declared himself “team TERF” (which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and made a number of jokes many have considered “transphobic”.

In a video posted to Instagram, Chappelle later addressed the criticism and doubled down on his stance: “To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience, but you will not summon me. I am not bending to anyone’s demands.”

He went on to say: “And if you want to meet with me, I am more than willing to, but I have some conditions. First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing, and thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.”

The remark directed at Gadsby is a reply to the comedian’s recent criticism of Chappelle and Netflix for airing the special which she labelled “hate speech”.

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