WITH the new release of American comedian Dave Chappelle’s latest show on Netflix, the question that comes to mind is: where can comedy go from here?

Chappelle is a black comedian, famed for being controversial and determinedly politically incorrect. His determination, however, is based on comedy, not malice, about crafting a story or a joke that is more than anything else, funny.

Sometimes it works, others, less so. But it is when he is being both smart (and he is very smart) and risky, and when he trusts his audience to recognise that he is first and foremost a comedian, that he produces his best work.

The danger in his comedy is that it is offensive, and he appears to go out of his way to offend as many different communities as possible, although he has a special place for trans jokes.

The focus on the trans community is partly because he doesn’t buy into the idea that a man can be a woman or vice versa, and he sees comedy in that. But it is also because he feels that cancel culture, and the threat to comedy, often comes most vociferously from trans activists who push for comedians to be sacked.

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At the end of his latest show, The Closer, Chappelle tells a story about his trans friend and fellow comedian, Daphne, who committed suicide. He has set up a trust fund for Daphne’s daughter and in a classic play on all sorts of sensibilities, both taking the mick and being empathetic all in one line, he jokes that when he meets the girl, “I’ll tell that young lady, I knew your father and he was a wonderful woman”.

Behind the jokes, Chappelle expresses a humanism and a desperate desire for those who call for comedians to be cancelled, to stop and think. “Remember,” he pleads, “taking a man’s livelihood is akin to killing him”.

Indeed, this trend, especially amongst young people, to feel that it is a new normal to call for people to be sacked is one of the most depressing developments amongst “progressives”.

Daphne defended Chappelle’s trans jokes on Twitter, saying: “He doesn’t punch up, he doesn’t punch down, he punches lines and is a master of his craft”.

For this, like Chappelle himself, he explains, she was “dragged on Twitter”. He adds – for those who think that words really are weapons and who appear to live their lives online – “I don’t give a f***, because Twitter’s not a real place”.

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Best of all, perhaps, as Chappelle closes his show, while explaining that he is no longer going to do any more trans jokes until “we are both sure that we are laughing together”, he finishes with this line: “All I ask from your community, with all humility, please stop punching down on my people”.

By, “my people”, Chappelle, is not talking about black people, he is very purposefully stepping outside of the victimhood so strongly attached to identity politics that encourages us all to see ourselves through closed off categories, like race or gender. He is talking about comedians.

Comedians are black and white, gay and straight and trans, they are all sorts of people but, for Chappelle, they are the “people”, or the “community” that matters. Made up of workers, artists, writers, entertainers – this is a “people” who see past “difference” and find commonality in their craft.

Like all workers, it's their striving in life, their actions in the world, their hard work, their imagination and their human ingenuity that forges the most useful and potentially collective form of identity and unity.

So, as the Hate Crime Act begins to kick in, and Scottish comedians, writers and entertainers are crushed under the puritanical weight of our government, spare a thought for Chappelle’s point. Moreover, spare a thought for Daphne, a trans woman but more importantly a budding comedian, who knew how to take a joke.

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