Saturday Night Live has reliably tapped Dave Chappelle three times to offer some of his patented unfiltered commentary following recent major national elections. But this weekend the leader of a prominent Jewish civil rights group said the envelope-pushing stand-up went too far in an opening monologue in which he took on the recent rash of antisemitic statements and controversies surrounding rapper Kanye West (now known as Ye) and suspended NBA player Kyrie Irving.
Dave Chappelle’s ‘SNL’ Opening Monologue Addresses Kanye West Antisemitic Comments: Watch
“We shouldn’t expect @DaveChappelle to serve as society’s moral compass, but disturbing to see @nbcsnl not just normalize but popularize #antisemitism,” tweeted ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt of the 15-minute show opener that critics said perpetuated Jewish stereotypes while seemingly attempting to humorously demystify them. “Why are Jewish sensitivities denied or diminished at almost every turn? Why does our trauma trigger applause?”
Chappelle — who has repeatedly courted criticism in a series of stand-up specials in which he engaged in what critics have labeled hurtful transphobic and homophobic stereotypes — opened the bit by unfolding a piece of paper and reading a statement. “I denounce antisemitism in all its forms. And I stand with my friends in the Jewish community,” he said. “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.”
Chappelle then reeled off a series of recent incidents in which Ye has been accused of antisemitism and the harsh responses to his actions and words while joking that in his 35-year career in comedy he learned one very important lesson: never say the words “the” and “Jews” in sequence. It was one of several lines that amplified a Jewish stereotypes instead of decrying in a manner that many Jewish leaders and commentators did not find amusing during a time of heightened antisemitic sentiment. The provocative Lenny Bruce-style mono was repeatedly undercut when the bit steered directly into the same dark territory Chappelle thought he was shining a light on according to critics.
“I’ve been to Hollywood and — no one get mad at me — I’m just telling you what I saw… It’s a lot of Jews,” Chappelle whispered. “Like a lot.” Chappelle then doubled and tripled-down on his line of logic, suggesting that the “delusion that Jews run show business” is not a “crazy thing to think,” but that “it’s a crazy thing to say out loud in a climate like this.” The suggestion that the thought is okay, but the action is not got even more muddled when Chappelle pivoted to another recent antisemitic controversy surrounding Nets player Irving.
In the comedian’s telling, despite the persecution of Jews all over the world, “you can’t blame that on Black Americans,” a stunning line that drew silence from the normally raucous studio audience; Irving has been suspended by the Nets after posting a link to an antisemitic, Holocaust-denying film and then refusing to apologize for his actions. The Jerusalem Post succinctly summed up their feelings about the Chappelle monologue in a tweet that read, “Chappelle said during his SNL monologue that he ‘denounces antisemitism in all its forms’… before promptly engaging in antisemitic stereotypes.”
His opening was also denounced by Carly Pildis, a contributor to Jewish magazine The Forward and director of community engagement for the ADL, who said Chappelle’s mono was off-base because it merely further stoked the flames of division. “Here is the thing, Dave Chapelle wants to joke about antisemitism but he isn’t living with the consequences of it,” she wrote. “Antisemitic incidences are at a historic high in America, but that doesn’t get mentioned. Probably cause it’s not actually funny. It’s scary as hell.”
NPR TV critic Eric Deggans said he wasn’t sure what a professional athlete posting a link to an antisemitic film with no context and then taking “several long days” to disavow the film’s anti-Jewish content has to do with whether you can “blame” Black Americans for the plight of Jewish Americans. “What I do know, is that one of comedy’s boldest and most incisive voices had a chance to lend insight to the long struggle Black America has had with antisemitism,” Deggans wrote. “But instead, his monologue seemed filled with justification and minimization – failing to mention, for instance, allegations that Ye has expressed admiration for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.”
In April, the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitic behavior nationwide, reported a 34% rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2021 (to 2,717), which averaged out to more than seven such incidents per day. At press time it did not appear that Chapelle had reacted to the criticism of his SNL monologue and a spokesperson for the comedian had not returned a request for comment.
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