Yellow Springs comedian Dave Chappelle surprised comedy fans by showing up to John Mulaney's May 20 stand-up show in Columbus. But many attendees were frustrated when Chappelle reportedly continued his punches toward the LGBTQ+ community during his unscheduled set.
Chappelle performed for about 15 minutes before Mulaney took over, social media users said. During Chappelle's mini-set, the comedian reportedly talked about the man who had attacked him on stage on May 3 during the Netflix Is a Joke comedy festival. Chappelle had made a joke about the man's weapon – which police had said was a gun that also had a knife blade – saying it was "a gun that identifies as a knife," attendees posted.
The comedian's bit invoked a trope that largely is considered transphobic, as it makes light of people who declare or affirm a gender identity. People who are transgender have gender identities that are different from those they were born with. Chappelle's words also equated an inanimate object to living people who are routinely marginalized through laws and resources as well as physically and verbally attacked.
In an interview with the New York Post released May 22, Chappelle's attacker Isaiah Lee said that he was moved to act due to Chappelle's ongoing jokes about LGBTQ+ community members, sexual abuse and homelessness.
One attendee at the Columbus show told Buzzfeed News that Chappelle also made homophobic jokes about audience members.
"He had a bit where he pulled out twin boys from the crowd and said they were jerking each other off and were gay with one another, which was weird," Madison McAlear told Buzzfeed.
Attendees have posted that being confronted with Chappelle's hurtful jokes without notice was crushing, pointing out that Mulaney knew of Chappelle's maligned history with the LGBTQ+ community and welcomed him to perform anyway.
"Pretty disappointed in John Mulaney, saw him tonight and yeah, he was funny, but he gave Dave Chapelle the platform to make some transphobic jokes. Also very disheartening to hear a crowd of 12,000 around you (a trans person) laughing at transphobic jokes. Thanks Columbus," said Libby, a Twitter user.
"y’all ever hear ~12,000 people laugh at a transphobic joke, while you’re a trans person in the audience who didn’t know the transphobic comedian would make a surprise appearance at the John Mulaney show? yeah. wasn’t fun. fuck you D.C.," said Rae, another Twitter user.
After Chappelle's set in Columbus, Mulaney reportedly hugged his fellow comedian, seemingly condoning Chappelle's act. Neither Chappelle nor Mulaney have posted about the Columbus show on their social media accounts as of press time May 23.
Footage of the Columbus performance is unavailable, as attendees were required to lock their phones in pouches until after the show.
Chappelle has long held that jokes about marginalized communities are fair game despite members of those communities repeatedly telling him about the harm he does.
Immediately after the May 3 incident during the Netflix festival, Chappelle told his audience that his attacker, "was a trans man" in a joking fashion, alluding to the ire the comedian has raised for his repeated anti-transgender jokes and bits. Last fall, Chappelle was embroiled in a major controversy upon the Oct. 5 release of his his Netflix special The Closer, in which he intentionally misgendered a transgender friend who had died. Chappelle also has defended Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling for her series of ongoing transphobic remarks and positions, declared himself "Team TERF" ("trans-exclusionary radical feminist," or, more simply, someone who supports women but not trans women) and compared trans women's genitalia to "Beyond" products, a meat substitute, implying that they are not "real" genitalia.
After The Closer was released, Netflix employees staged a walk-out to protest Chappelle's anti-trans jokes as well as his ongoing anti-cancel-culture comedy sets, Vox reports. To cut costs, Netflix recently laid off a large swath of employees, many of whom were LGBTQ+ and/or non-white or worked on shows with those traits. And in an update to its corporate culture memo this month, Netflix added a section defending controversial "artistic expression" like Chappelle's and outlined ways to protect privileged information around such content.
Chappelle has claimed to have never made explicit anti-trans jokes and that members of the LGBTQ+ community had "punched down" on "my people" like Kevin Hart, a Black comedian who has made homophobic jokes and tweets over the years.