The Controversial Dave Chappelle-Netflix Romance Continues: 4 New Specials to Come

The series consists of four new specials from comedians selected by Dave Chappelle, beginning with the upcoming "Earthquake: Legend."
Dave Chappelle attends the Universal Music Group's Grammy after party at Spring Studios on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
Dave Chappelle
Scott Roth/Invision/AP

Dave Chappelle: The Closer” was billed as the controversy-courting comedian’s final Netflix special, but the streaming service is doubling down on its business relationship with Chappelle. Netflix announced today that they are teaming up with the comedian for “Chappelle’s Home Team.”

“Chappelle’s Home Team” will be comprised of a series of four comedy specials from different comedians selected by executive producer Chappelle, who will appear in each special to introduce the comedian. The series kicks off February 28 with “Earthquake: Legendary” featuring Washington D.C.-based comedian Earthquake. The second special, which does not have a release date, will highlight Donnell Rawlings.

In 2016, Chappelle signed a lucrative deal with Netflix that paid him $20 million for each special he released on the streaming service. But he began attracting controversy almost immediately for his jokes about the trans community that offended many in the LGBT community. Chappelle has refused to back down from his jokes, but he attempted to set the record straight in “The Closer,” clarifying his remarks and chronicling his friendship with a late trans comedian and his efforts to help her family since her death.

If Chappelle’s goal was to get the final word and end the conversation about his transphobic jokes, the effort failed miserably. Some of his jokes attracted immediate outrage from critics, activists, and even some of his Hollywood peers. A small but extremely vocal minority of Netflix employees have demanded the company end their relationship with Chappelle, but Netflix has continued to stand by the comedian. While the company has issued statements defending their commitments to giving artists freedom of expression, this new show represents the most tangible commitment Netflix has made to Chappelle since the controversy surrounding “The Closer” began.

Chappelle continues to be a culture war lightning rod, not only for his material but also for the way he illustrates a growing divide between tastemakers and audiences. By most measures, his run of Netflix specials has been highly successful, racking up Emmy and Grammy wins and delivering massive ratings. While his popularity does not seem to be diminishing (Netflix does not release ratings, but it is hard to imagine they would continue weathering this controversy if it was), his refusal to back down from offensive material has made him something of a pariah in elite cultural discourse. Television critics have largely turned against him, and his celebrity friends even feel compelled to post Instagram apologies for being seen with the comedian. But Chappelle’s large fanbase is sticking with him. On Rotten Tomatoes, his most recent special currently has a critics score of 40 percent and a 95 percent from audiences.

While others have arguably been “cancelled” far more swiftly for saying far less than Chappelle has, his popularity has so far made him immune to such punishments. Netflix’s deal with Chappelle, along with Joe Rogan’s contract with Spotify, illustrate what happens when an entertainer faces nearly-unified opposition from cultural elites without losing any support from their fans.

“Earthquake: Legendary,” the first entry in “Chappelle’s Home Team,” debuts on Netflix February 26.

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