Dave Chappelle Addresses Backlash Over Trans Jokes in Netflix Special ‘Equanimity’

Comedian says “those types of choices do not disqualify you from a life with dignity and happiness and safety”

Dave Chappelle expresses regret for telling jokes about trans people, saying in his new stand-up special, “…those types of choices do not disqualify you from a life with dignity and happiness and safety.”

In the special called “Equanimity,” which premieres Sunday on Netflix, the comic describes receiving a letter from a fan voicing disappointment over a transphobic joke Chappelle made during one of his performances. And though he stopped short of apologizing for the joke (in fact, he says that he can’t even recall which joke specifically upset the fan because he has “so many” jokes about trans people in his act), Chappelle expressed regret for making a fan feel bad.

“When I read that letter, in the moments after I read it, I did something that many black men in America do not have the time or the money to do,” he said. “I thought about how I felt.”

He goes on to say that he reflected on the question of whether or not he has a problem with trans people, given that he so frequently makes jokes at their expense. And the conclusion Chappelle came to: “Absolutely not.”

“I don’t understand all the choices people make,” he said. “But I do understand that life is hard, and that those types of choices do not disqualify you from a life with dignity and happiness and safety.”

However, Chappelle followed that by ruminating on the possibility that the only reason America cares about the life and feelings of trans people is because it’s an experience that can be had by white men, and if only women and people of color were transgender, no one would care.

Chappelle has long been criticized for his jokes about LGBT people, criticism that was reignited when his first two Netflix specials debuted on the streaming platform earlier this year. In the specials, Chappelle made glib jokes about gay and transgender people, singling out Caitlyn Jenner. That was met with reviews and thinkpieces condemning the material.

In August, Vulture ran a review of Chappelle‘s 16-show residency at Radio City Music Hall where the comedian “almost exclusively talked about trans issues” for the first 20 minutes of his set, including the bit about the letter that would become part of “Equanimity.”

“Chappelle didn’t come off as a free-speech fire starter or an inflammatory punk trying to get a rise out of people,” the review read. “He just sounded old and out of touch, a fact that he touched on very briefly throughout the set, but not enough.”