It’s a charged metaphor to use at the moment, but some standup comics function as border patrol agents. They may not stand in airports checking the papers of arriving travelers, but many of the best ones — and Dave Chappelle undoubtedly belongs in that elite group — are obsessed with moral positions and cultural territories, who gets to occupy them, and why.
Many of the most thoughtful and incendiary comics explore the ways in which power dynamics worked in the past, as well as the kinds of words, actions and attitudes are acceptable in the present. How are flawed human beings, all of whom carry their own personal baggage along with the ingrained attitudes of the cultures they were raised in, supposed to negotiate evolving attitudes and new social protocols while holding on to their identities and at least part of their dignity? In two new standup specials that arrive Tuesday on Netflix, Chappelle explores those knotty, unpredictable issues with quite a bit of success.
One of the opening bits in the first special, “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” finds Chappelle riffing on a moment in which a white man threw a banana peel at him. It’s a “tough time for the blacks,” he says, which is one reason he thanks Muslim Americans and Mexicans for taking some of the heat off African-Americans.
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