Dave Chappelle's Unapologetic in Surprise Netflix Special, Keeps Showing Us How It's Done

(Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

An unannounced release includes a show filmed just weeks ago at Dave Chappelle’s alma mater, following his latest controversy.

In what is a curious surprise arrival from Netflix, on Thursday the streaming service offered up a new stand-up special from one of our most important comedians – “Dave Chappelle: What’s In A Name?” In keeping with his infamous inflexibility, Chappelle addresses head-on the most recent controversy of sorts to surround him. What makes this release notable is not only how he addresses things, but where.


Recently, the news came out that the comedian was to be honored by the school he had attended in Washington D.C., The Duke Ellington School for the Arts. The announcement last fall was that a theater would be named after Chappelle, but then he staged a question-and-answer session with students from the school and faced significant resistance. This was a result of the then swirling social outrage to his Netflix release “The Closer.”

The students had challenged the comedian over his program, echoing many of the words heard in the media from offended groups and activists. After the session, Chappelle was affected and on the night of the ceremony to announce the re-naming, he came out to announce that he was refusing the offer. 

Dave Chappelle performs at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket /Invision/AP)

In the new special, Dave spends much of the time detailing his past, and what the school meant to him. In one portion, he poignantly talks about the difficulty of leaving a rough institution in the era of the crack epidemic in D.C., describing the array of strange faces at Ellington as “refugees from the neighborhood schools.” He also touches on the time he quit his Comedy Central program, and rebuilding his career in the name of the art.

About 30 minutes in, he begins to describe the recent news regarding his cherished school. In discussing that Q & A session he explains how he fielded the criticism about his special and asked the students, “I remember I said to them, ‘what do you think I did wrong?’ – and a line formed.” He then describes what transpired, and what the problem specifically had been.


“These kids said everything about gender and this, that, and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art. But that one, that day – boy, that day, they hurt me. When I heard those talking points coming out of these kids’ faces, that really, sincerely hurt me. Because I know those kids did not come up with those words – I’ve heard those words before. These kids didn’t understand that they were instruments of oppression.”

Then Dave moves on to the important aspect of what he does, and why that is so important. He instills a cold fact that the auditorium would be wise to digest–that they should be doing the opposite of constricting expression because they are actually constricting art.

“The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right – my freedom – of artistic expression.”

He talks about making the announcement on stage he decided to pass on having the building rechristened in his honor. So he said, rather than giving this building his name, he was giving the students his message. He announced that, instead, the building would be referred to as The Theater For Artistic Freedom & Expression. As he unveiled this new title, he received a standing ovation.


This 40-minute special is not a typical stand-up, obviously; it is a lesson plan. Chappelle shows how to handle the left’s hyperbolic social reactions. You do not need to cower and shrink. Standing up for yourself, your freedoms, and your position is a noble effort, and it takes some strength. But in the end, doing the right thing beats back the hordes. 

Chappelle shows us those hordes only have their outrage; they do not have any weight. Your content and character will make those hectoring masses shrivel.


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