HEAVY META: Dave Chappelle’s SNL monologue has people wondering about antisemitism

HEAVY META: Dave Chappelle's SNL monologue has people wondering about antisemitism

Never a stranger to controversy, Dave Chappelle opened his Saturday Night Live monologue (see videos below) by tackling Kanye, Kyrie Irving, and Jews in Hollywood.

The iconic comedian started by reading a note he unfolded from his pocket, declaring, “I denounce antisemitism in all its forms and I stand with my friends in the Jewish community.” It was the equivalent of starting a comment with “No offense, but…” and then proceeding to think it’s all right to say pretty much anything. He added, “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time,” begging the question: Time for what? To express antisemitic views?

Chappelle said that he learned early on in his career that you should never say two words together: “the” and “Jews.” Not sure why he had to “learn” that.

He went on to describe growing up with Jewish friends, wondering why they couldn’t do things on “shananana” (presumably meaning Shabbos) and asking why some of them dressed “like Run DMC” (the Hasidim).

To be fair, many of these jokes were meant in good spirits, and I do not believe Chappelle is antisemitic. But his monologue shows how even a smart man can be ignorant.

Some examples from the monologue:

  • On the “rules of perception,” he said, “If they’re black, it’s a gang; if they’re Italian, it’s a mob; and if they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it.”
  •  On Kyrie Irving: “I know the Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world, but you can’t blame that on black Americans – ya just can’t.”
  • On Hollywood: “It’s a lotta Jews. A lot. But that doesn’t mean anything. There’s a lotta black people in Ferguson Missouri. They don’t run things.”
  • Said that someone could adopt the “delusion that the Jews run show business – it’s not a crazy thing to think. But it’s a crazy thing to say out loud.”

Whether intentionally or not, Chappelle’s diatribe plays into stereotypes about the Jewish people (they control Hollywood and the media, they’re too sensitive, et cetera).

It also ignores historic barriers to entry: in the early days of Hollywood, many Jewish people had to band together because they were kept out by others. The Warner Brothers, the Marx Brothers, Sam Goldwyn, the Three Stooges, and more faced antisemitism, and so they stuck together. They did their own thing.

Coming from a Jewish family, I am also keenly aware of the Jewish tradition of “gallows humor” – learning to laugh through hard times. It’s a tradition that brought many immigrant Jews into vaudeville and eventually Hollywood when other avenues were closed to them.

Other groups that were excluded from work and educational opportunities did this too: it’s why there are Chinese dry cleaners and a tradition of Irish cops.

Chappelle may not have intended any harm, of course – and, in fairness, he also made sure to say that Kanye is “not well” – but his remarks play right into a dangerous narrative. They sparked responses from Jewish leaders, entertainers, and others.

Comedy can sometimes be controversial – I understand that. But it need not be dismissive (like Chappelle has done with transgender people) and it need not play into stereotypes.

Be better than that, Dave.

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Ross Rosenfeld

is a news analysis and opinion writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Daily News and Newsweek. He lives in New York.