Dave Chappelle fills Netflix’s The Dreamer with jokes about trans and disabled people: ‘I love punching down’

It’s the comedian’s first special for the streamer since 2021’s highly controversial ‘The Closer’

Ellie Harrison
Sunday 31 December 2023 14:33 GMT
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Dave Chappelle has released a new Netflix special, The Dreamer, which is full of jokes about the trans community and disabled people.

“I love punching down!” he tells the audience, in a one-hour show that landed on the streaming service today (31 December).

It’s his seventh special for Netflix and comes two years after his last one, the highly controversial release The Closer.

That programme was criticised for its relentless jokes about the trans community, and Chappelle revisits the topic in his new show.

He tells jokes about trans women in prison, and about trans people “pretending” to be somebody they are not.

His set also targets disabled people. “Tonight, I’m doing all handicap jokes,” he announces. One sketch is about paraplegic former North Carolina Republican representative Madison Cawthorn, who famously claimed he was invited to Washington sex parties.

The Dreamer was shot in Chappelle’s hometown of Washington, DC at the Lincoln Theatre.

His last special, The Closer, led to fierce criticism of Chappelle and of Netflix for airing the programme.

Dave Chappelle in ‘The Closer’
Dave Chappelle in ‘The Closer’ (Netflix)

Civil rights advocacy group the National Black Justice Coalition called on Netflix to remove the special from their catalogue.

“With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States – the majority of whom are Black transgender people – Netflix should know better,” said the National Black Justice Coalition’s executive director, David Johns.

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“Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence. Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologise to the transgender community.”

The Closer actually resulted in a walkout among some Netflix employees who demanded the company remove the content.

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the specials, saying to his staff: “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.

“I recognise, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”

Chappelle has seemingly profited from the controversy. In 2023, he sold more tickets than any other comedy headliner, grossing $62m (£48.6m) across 31 gigs.

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