Not always funny? Racial humor from Chappelle

By Tinbete Ermyas

It was an average Saturday night, and for me, that means a lot. I was sitting around with some friends when someone posed the ever-popular question: ƒ?oeHey, does anyone want to watch Chappelleƒ?TMs Show?ƒ?? How could anyone resist? And so, we did.I couldnƒ?TMt even get my first laugh out when the words were uttered: ƒ?oemy favorite skit is the one with the Niggars!ƒ??

I was stopped dead in my tracks. I know that my friend was referring to the skit that most people love on Chappelleƒ?TMs Show, but never did I expect himƒ?” a white maleƒ?”to utter the words that sounded more painful than he was aware in jest.

ƒ?oeOh,ƒ?? he said, in an attempt to redeem himself, ƒ?oeI meant ƒ?”ar, not ƒ?”er.ƒ??
It was at this point in the night that I just wished I had ordered pizza and watched old episodes of Arrested Development.

But that experience made me think about the larger implications of a show like Chappelleƒ?TMs Show. What exactly does it mean that people all over the country are watching this show and are granted permission to make some remarks that would be deemed crude had it not been for a black man using them in his skits?

Itƒ?TMs taken me a while to think of the answer, but Iƒ?TMve had some interesting discussions in the process.

I have found that the overwhelming majority of people with whom I spoke are in support of Chappelleƒ?TMs efforts with the show. Many argue that his satirical approach to race relations is a nice change of pace from the typical exhausting discussions of race relations in the United States.

Itƒ?TMs an argument that I donƒ?TMt buy wholly. I think that I would buy the argument much more if there were some educational component to the program. If people arenƒ?TMt willing to learn about the historical legacies of many of Chappelleƒ?TMs jokes, then in many ways I feel that they arenƒ?TMt ready to consume them.

But just as soon as I was ready to give up on an internal debate, of which I was the only one protesting, Chappelle began to comment on the nature of his show. Chappelle addressed whether or not he would return for another season.

What surprised me the most about Chappelleƒ?TMs response to his show was that it became clear to him that the messages he relays in his show donƒ?TMt affect all people in the same way. He commented on a particular instance in which they were shooting a particular scene and that one of his crew members laughed at a particular joke in the wrong way, crossing the thin line between humor and offense.

Hmmmƒ?Ý.sounds a lot like my Saturday night.

My main problem with the whole Chapelle show debate is how people deal with the fact that they may be racist as a result of watching the show or recycling jokes from it.

Whenever I approached someone about the fact that he may indeed be racist, I would get the common response of ƒ?oeMan, quit complainingƒ?? or ƒ?oeHeƒ?TMs black, he canƒ?TMt be racist. Besides, itƒ?TMs just comedy.ƒ??
And I really do want to believe proponents of these claims when they say that racism is over. But I canƒ?TMt help but think that their views are slightly superficial. (If you have any questions as to the state of race relations in America, direct your eyes to the current state of many black Alabama churches.)

It is evident that many individuals who consume the show without any formidable analysis are afraid to deal with the harsh realities of racism. Some forms of consumption go way beyond their mere entertainment value, more than likely they reflect the lived experiences of many individuals. All of the debates surrounding Chappelleƒ?TMs made me realize that there is a fine line between laughing with and laughing at somebody. It took Chappelle nearly three seasons to realize this, and perhaps it will take others a little while longer to realize that.

But until those particular individuals realize it, I am going to have to say that I am not willing to consume the show in the same way they are.

Thatƒ?TMs right, from now on Iƒ?TMll be ready to go with my slice of pizza and an episode of Arrested Development.

Tinbete Ermyas ƒ?TM08 is the main contributor to the ƒ?oeFrom the Margin to the Centerƒ?? Column for The Mac Weekly Opinion Section. Contact him at [email protected]