Bill Maher became the latest celebrity to speak in defense of embattled comedian Dave Chappelle after his latest Netflix comedy special, The Closer, sparked intense and widespread backlash. For those somehow still unfamiliar, Dave Chappelle released The Closer earlier this month. In it, he dedicates the final third of the performance to air his grievances with the LGBTQ+ community, specifically transgender people, in light of the criticism his previous special with the streaming giant, Sticks & Stones, faced.
The comedian pulls no punches in speaking in blunt terms about the transgender community, using language that many deemed to be small-minded and problematic such as stating that “gender is a fact” and declaring himself “team TERF,” a term previously applied to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling that stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” For almost a month, debate over the content of Dave Chappelle’s words has run rampant, provoking a massive protest at Netflix and, of course, a response from Bill Maher on his HBO TV series.
During a panel discussion with NY Times newsletter opinion writer John McWhorter and former presidential and New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, Bill Maher brought up the controversy. He started by making sure to say at the top that all three of the men cisgender men speaking are in full support of the transgender community. Then he spent the next five minutes calling their hurt and outrage over Dave Chappelle’s comments into question.
Bill Maher asserted that he doesn’t believe for a second that Dave Chappelle has any ill will toward the transgender community, despite what was said in the latter third of his special. Instead, the host opted to read criticism of The Closer from critics and individual users to point out how hyperbolic he believes some of the rebukes to be — thus dismissing every single one. Yang briefly chimed in to note how difficult it must be for a comedian to come up with new, provocative things to say, and noted that fear of backlash must get in the way of “art.” McWhorter then pivoted the conversation to a larger one about cancel culture in general, doing his best to find a singular flaw in the logic of the Chappelle criticism to, like Bill Maher, discount the whole thing.
He explained to Bill Maher’s audience that he often sees that people who find themselves fighting power differentials. Those could be in favor of the transgender community, against racism, or what have you, leading them to believe they are arguing an intellectual nuanced point. But it’s actually on the contrary and he believes they’re actually promoting a simplistic way of looking at things.
Later in the episode, Bill Maher took McWhorter’s ball and ran with it, going into a much larger rant about the national temperature needing to cool down in its discourse. He notes that people are so quick to go online and wish death on those who disagree with them, that people have become desensitized to just how out of control the discourse has become.
Bill Maher concluded his thoughts on the matter by advising his audience to “take it down a notch” and “deescalate” the tension in the U.S. He noted that a good place to begin is with the recent story about Star Trek actor William Shatner going into space with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company. Many criticized William Shatner for being a pawn in the billionaire space race, but Bill Maher said that there’s no need to make this a political story. “Just enjoy it,” he concluded.