Tonight, Dave Chappelle will host “Saturday Night Live” for the third time – an appearance that is courting controversy before he even takes the stage.
The comedian has drawn growing anger in recent years for making jokes aimed at transgender people, and the outcry escalated last fall when Netflix released a Chappelle special, “The Closer,” in which he doubled down on his comments.
Netflix backed Chappelle, who toured nationally after the special and largely shrugged off the controversy after addressing it in his act.
But his comments were criticized by fellow comics, fans, trans advocates and some Netflix employees, and one Minnesota location canceled a Chappelle show this year because of the controversy.
Given this context, it was surprising to some “SNL” viewers to see him re-invited to Studio 8H. Here’s a look at Chappelle’s recent history of trans jokes — and the resulting backlash.
August: In a series of stand-up shows at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, Chappelle made jokes aimed at trans people for at least 20 minutes, Vulture reported. He made explicit jokes about trans people’s bodies and called trans people “transgender,” among other comments, Vulture said.
These weren’t the first jokes Chappelle had made at the expense of trans people. But he delivered them to New York after drawing some backlash for previous comments.
“This joke and others in this section suffer from the same problems as his specials – they are rooted in disgust and generalization,” Vulture wrote of a joke Chappelle made about ISIS fighters. horrified by transgender soldiers. “They’re just not good.”
August 26: Netflix released a stand-up special, “Sticks and Stones,” in which Chappelle performed more material about trans people, including content from his Radio City shows. In an epilogue to the special, he brought up his friend Daphne Dorman, a trans comedian, who he says laughed the most at his jokes about trans people.
October 5: Netflix has released Chappelle’s “The Closer” special. In this one, he takes a long tangent about transgender people and makes several jokes at their expense. He misjudges a trans comedian, once again makes explicit jokes about trans women’s bodies, and champions TERFs, or trans-exclusive radical feminists.
He also called trans people “transgender,” says “gender is a fact,” and later says Dorman died by suicide shortly after being criticized by other trans people for standing up for Chappelle after “ Sticks and Stones”.
By the time Chappelle’s special came out, at least 33 states had introduced anti-transgender legislation, much of it aimed at trans youth.
October 13: Amid calls from LGBTQ advocates, fellow comedians, Netflix employees and social justice organizations to pull the special, Netflix stood by Chappelle.
In a letter obtained by Verge and Variety, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos told employees the special will remain available for streaming.
“We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hatred or violence, and we don’t think ‘The Closer’ crosses that line… Some people find the art of stand-up is nasty, but our members appreciate it, and it’s an important part of our content offering,” Sarandos wrote.
Netflix has suspended three employees for attending a virtual directors’ meeting to discuss the special without notifying the meeting organizer in advance. Among them was Terra Field, a senior trans software engineer who had publicly criticized the special and Netflix. His suspension was later overturned.
October 19: Sarandos told Variety that he “messed up” his communications with Netflix employees, but reiterated that he doesn’t believe the special is being labeled as “hate speech.”
October 20: About 65 demonstrators, including Netflix employees and trans advocates, took part in a walkout to protest Netflix’s support of “The Closer.” Protesters called on Netflix to hire more trans and non-binary executives and fund more trans and non-binary talent.
October 24: Three trans comedians told CNN they were disappointed with Chappelle’s jokes, though all three said they once considered the famous performer an inspiration for comedy. While they all agreed that jokes about trans people aren’t inherently offensive, they said Chappelle’s set was steeped in the same hateful rhetoric and language used by anti-transgender critics.
“When he talks about the trans community, he’s not talking about them, he’s talking against them,” comedian Nat Puff told CNN. “And that’s the difference between saying something funny about the trans community and saying something offensive about the trans community.”
A fourth comic, Flame Monroe, one of the only trans comics whose material airs on Netflix, told CNN she thinks Chappelle should be allowed to joke about trans people, even though she has first surprised by some of his comments.
October 25: Chappelle addressed critics on a show in Nashville, alongside Joe Rogan, the podcast host who has come under fire for dismissing vaccine effectiveness and using racial slurs, among other controversies.
Chappelle posted videos to his official Instagram account from the set, in which he apparently addressed trans Netflix employees who participated in the walkout on “The Closer.”
“It looks like I’m the only one who can’t go to the office anymore,” he said.
“I want everyone in this audience to know that even though the media paints it as me versus this community, that’s not what it is,” Chappelle continued. “Don’t blame the LBGTQ (sic) community for anything like this s—. It has nothing to do with them. It’s about the interest of the company and what I can say and what I can’t say.
“For the record – and I need you to know this – everyone I know in this community has been nothing but love and support. So I don’t know what all this nonsense means.
July 12: “The Closer” was nominated for two Emmys, including “Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)”. Adele went on to win the category.
July 21: A Minneapolis venue canceled Chappelle’s sold-out show hours before it opened, apologizing to “staff, artists and our community” after receiving criticism for hosting Chappelle.
“We believe in diverse voices and freedom of artistic expression, but in honoring this we lost sight of the impact it would have,” wrote First Avenue, the location famous for being featured in the movie “Purple Rain” by Prince.
Field joked on Twitter“Wait I thought I canceled it (sic). Is it possible that cancel culture isn’t a real thing?”
November 10: After the New York Post reported that several “SNL” writers were boycotting Saturday’s episode, Chappelle’s reps told CNN there were no issues with the writers or the cast. The current “SNL” staff includes non-binary actor Molly Kearney and non-binary writer Celeste Yim.
Chappelle will take the stage live Saturday at 11:30 p.m. ET.