“I didn’t come here to be right,” Dave Chappelle says in The Bird Revelation, his fourth Netflix special of 2017. “I came here to fuck around.” This line could be a preamble spoken before just about every joke in both Bird and the other special he released on New Year’s Eve, Equanimity. That Chappelle produced four hour-long specials in a single year is a record; though each succeeds in some way, they’re not all brilliant. This latest pair is defiant, knotty, and sometimes difficult, but as Chappelle tells his crowd, he feels a responsibility to “talk recklessly” and find the “joy of being wrong.” Of course, Chappelle is a master of the form, so there are undoubtedly delights. Here are the 11 best jokes from the new specials — and by “jokes,” we mean not just setups and punch lines, but any chunk of material organized around a specific theme. Most come from Equanimity, the more polished and livelier of the two; Bird, by comparison, comes off like a late-night tear full of material that has yet to mature.
On growing up in the suburbs
My parents did just well enough so I could grow up poor around white people. When Nas and them used to talk about the projects, I used to get jealous. It sounded fun. Everybody in the projects was poor, and that’s fair. But if you were poor in Silver Spring, nigga, it felt like it was only happening to you. Nas does not know the pain of that first sleepover at a white friend’s house. You just come home back on Sunday and look at your parents like, “Y’all need to step your game up.”
Chappelle is at his best when straddling the divide between worlds, illuminating the sort of code-switching required to slip between black and white social realms. Because he wanted to be “embraced by the streets,” Chappelle has allowed rappers and others to think he grew up in the projects, but in fact, he grew up in the D.C. suburb of Silver Spring. This bit jabs Mormons and meals made by white people while also poking fun at his relatively tame upbringing, and it’s delightful to imagine a weepy Nas feeling out of sorts because a white friend wouldn’t share any of his mysterious, alluring Stove Top Stuffing.
What is Rachel willing to do, so that we blacks believe that she believes she is actually one of us? Bitch, are you willing to put a lien on your house so that you can invest in a mixtape that probably won’t work out? […] If you want my support, you’re gonna have to change your name to the blackest shit I’ve ever heard. Bitch, you’re gonna have to change your name to Draymond Green. I don’t know a blacker name than that. That shit is black on paper. If you type Draymond Green into Airbnb, that shit will log off automatically.
Though couched in a larger, thornier point that Chappelle feels to compelled to revisit about transgender people, this joke about Rachel Dolezal works on its own merits. While thinking about Dolezal, the white woman who was a former NAACP chapter president, Chappelle wonders how far she might go in order to prove her commitment and fidelity to black people. It’s less about mocking Dolezal’s misrepresentation of herself, and more about challenging her to reject the privilege that white people are loathe to shuffle off. Although Chappelle plays on some stereotypes here, the specifics sell it.
On getting old
I don’t like looking at my dick anymore. My dick looks distinguished. It’s old, an old-looking dick. It’s got salt-and-pepper hair all around it. My dick looks like Morgan Freeman in the ’90s. Without the dots. My dick narrates, “Dave pulled me out and started jerking me around and jerking me around. But not with the same vigor as when he was young. He and I both knew nothing was coming out.”
It wouldn’t be a Chappelle special unless there were some gag personifying junk. There is a running joke in Equanimity that involves kicking a lady’s privates, but Chappelle fares better when looking between his own legs to ponder the discouraging side effects of getting older. At the age of 44, he is coping with middle age; he laments this while telling the crowd he recently started to masturbate but gave up halfway through “like nothing ever happened.” This moments yields another of Chappelle’s strikingly absurd images and an obscene, imagined bit of voice-over that just might burrow its way into your brain. There’s just something wonderfully wrong about Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating a jerk-off session in the same tone he might talk about penguin migration.
On having a teenage son
This motherfucker calls me up in the middle of the night. It was one o’clock in the morning and he goes, “Dad, don’t be mad […] I’m at a party and my designated driver had too much to drink. Me and friends need you to come pick us up.” I said, “Jesus Christ, it’s one o’clock in the morning. Nigga, I am shit-faced!” But I figured, fuck, it’s better me than some kid […] I said, “Alright, I’m coming to get you. Give me the address and I’ll be right there.” And then he gave me the address and I was shocked. I said, “Son, you’re not gonna believe this but — I’m at the same party, nigga!”
In the great pantheon of Chappelle story-jokes, this is a minor one, but it is notable for being one of the lighter, autobiographical moments in these two specials. After discovering his 16-year-old son’s rolling papers and mourning the loss of the young man’s innocence, Chappelle talks about how fast his kid is growing up. Of course, he never hurries; he strolls into this story slowly, just waiting for the moment the audience is fully invested and he can flip the thing on its head. The switcheroo, which paints Chappelle as an incompetent dad who’s even more irresponsible than his son, is well worth the wait. And it’s a moment that finds Dave in a purely giddy mood.
The 2016 election
Eight years later, I’m pulling up to the polls again. This time, I’m driving a brand-new Porsche because the Obama years were very good to me […] I walked up and saw a long, long line of dusty white people […] I stood with them in line, like all us Americans are required to do in a democracy. Nobody skips the line to vote. And I listened to them say naïve, poor white people things. “Donald Trump is gonna go to Warshington and he’s gonna fight for us.” And I’m standing there thinking in my mind, “You dumb motherfucker. You are poor. He’s fighting for me!”
While dissecting the difference between voting in 2008 and voting in 2016, Chappelle talks parking lots. The year Obama was elected, his polling place was so full of black faces that he “thought it was a check-cashing place.” More recently, he saw pickups and tractors and the aforementioned “dusty white people.” It’s a simple, clever conceit, but what makes it really sing is when Chappelle points out that he is rich enough to be the beneficiary of Trump’s legislative efforts. Has Trump made it clear how he feels about nonwhite people? Repeatedly. Did an incredibly wealthy man pull the wool over the eyes of the poor, white population of the U.S.? Probably. Rather than point out the obvious racial divide, however, Chappelle implicates himself in a class war. It’s both smart and impish, the sort of move that Chappelle fans have come to expect.
This motherfucker [Donald Trump] grabbed the podium and he goes, “You don’t know how scary the things I read in my briefings are.” Holy shit, man, you ain’t supposed to tell us that, bro! That’s bad leadership. Even as a parent, you think I’m going to sit my kids down, “Hey, little man, let me holla at you for a second. Yo, I am three months behind on the rent, nigga, and I am worried. Very worried. Go on, go to school and have a productive day, nigga, I was just thinking out loud, just getting shit off my chest.” What are you doing, bro?
In a playful bit examining Trump’s presidency, Chappelle disavows the audience of the idea that he was or is a Trump supporter. (A New York Observer review of a Chappelle gig from November 2016 and the comic’s own comments during an SNL host monologue might have given the impression otherwise.) It sounds like Chappelle is just as confused and horrified as the bulk of Americans when Trump says outrageous things; he’s also particularly disconcerted by Trump’s lip sweat. The above bit gives his outrage a human scale and serves as a preamble for Chappelle’s closer, which likens Trump to the lie that condemned Emmett Till; it’s not funny, but it’s surprisingly hopeful.
I respect everybody’s beliefs, except Amish people. They are the only ones I can say clearly, “Their God is wrong.” The speed limit is 75 miles an hour in Ohio, and one lane of traffic is blocked by a goddamned horse and buggy? Nigga, your God is ridiculous […] When I see that horse and buggy, I’ll pull the Porsche over and talk to them. “Ezekiel, are you sure that God doesn’t want you to have any of this technology or this energy? […] I’m trying to put you onto the game, Zeke. It’s a big world out here. I just went 25 miles in 30 minutes, that’s a day’s journey for you. You don’t even know what the weather’s going to be tomorrow, do you? I do. You don’t even know that there’s a valuable Pokémon right on your shoulder.”
Okay, so it’s easy to pick on the Amish. But there’s something fun about the idea of Chappelle in a sports car, flaunting his air conditioning and taunting some bearded guy riding a buggy who thinks he’s Satan. As often as Chappelle makes himself out to be a righteous dude wielding a flaming sword of truth, he also loves to cast himself as a cartoonish villain. In this case, at least the Amish aren’t likely get offended about it — in part because they won’t be streaming Equanimity anytime soon.
You think I go to a Hollywood meeting with all them white people by myself? I bring my nigga Mac Mittens from the streets […] He’s not even qualified to listen to these meetings, he just makes me feel good […] When they done talking, I just look over to Mac Mittens and if he gives me the signal, meow meow, I’ll sign the papers. It’s a gut check.
In what will go down as the silliest defense of Jared Kushner ever, Chappelle talks about why friends and family can be useful in one’s business life. If Trump wants to keep from looking stupid — as he did when he took that call from Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen — Chappelle believes the man needs to have his own version of Mac Mittens. Hence, Kushner is a-okay in Chappelle’s book. It’s not a gut punch, but something about the alliteration of the name and Dave’s dippy act-out makes the character stand out in a sea of more difficult material. It also feels like a Chappelle’s Show sketch that could be sitting in a vault somewhere.
The tough part of being a comedian and knowing the motherfucker is, everybody comes up to me like, “Did you know? Did you know what Louis was doing?” No, bitch, I did not know. What the fuck you think we talk about at the comedy club? “Yo, how was the weekend?” “Great man, I was just jerking off on faces, coming on my own stomach, having a good time, you know how this business is!” No, I didn’t know. They act like we sit around like we’re in Grease. [Singing] “Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight?”
Much of The Bird Revelation is taken up by Chappelle’s uncomfortable musings about the fall of powerful men in Hollywood and the #MeToo movement. Here, Chappelle’s material works best when he speaks to his own perspective rather than sitting in judgement of others. This bit isn’t about Louis C.K. or his accusers; it’s about the culture of comedy and how things may appear from the outside. While it’s possible Chappelle is being disingenuous here, it’s also plausible that a man who lives with his family in Ohio may not have heard about every transgression committed by a comedy peer.
On protests during the National Anthem
I could kill every white person in America at one time. You know how I’d do it? Just wait for the Super Bowl, and right when they sing the National Anthem, I’d have O.J. Simpson walk to the 50-yard line with them bad knees. “Is that O.J. Simpson on the field? What the hell’s he doing here? Oh, I know what he’s going to do! Stop him!” [Kneeling] Pow, ahhh!
This bit begins with a brief history of the lives of black people in America, including slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, Martin Luther King Jr., and Obama, until Chappelle realizes that a “400-year nightmare” might have been different if anyone realized that kneeling during the National Anthem was “white people’s weakness the whole time.” So he imagines the above scenario, all the while portraying O.J. as a man hobbling around on bad legs — a physical bit that gets more bigger and sillier as Chappelle prepares to kneel. While the joke looks pretty stark in print, it’s worth noting that Chappelle seems keen on strengthening “brittle spirits,” not mass racial extermination.
I used to do shows for drug dealers that wanted to clean their money up. One time I did a real good set, and these motherfuckers called me into the back room. They gave me $25,000 in cash […] I jumped on the subway and started heading towards Brooklyn at one o’clock in the morning. Never been that terrified in my life. I’d never in my life had something that somebody else would want. I thought to myself, “Jesus Christ, if motherfuckers knew much money I had in this backpack, they’d kill me for it.” Then I thought: “Holy shit, what if I had a pussy on me all the time? That’s what women are dealing with.” […] If those same drug dealers gave me a pussy and said, “Put it in your backpack and take it to Brooklyn,” I’d be like, “Nigga, I can’t accept this.”
Though Chappelle doesn’t express much empathy for the women who spoke out about Louis C.K., he at least displays some awareness of what a woman might go through on a daily basis when it comes to dealing with men. (Something C.K. himself might have likened to a “blizzard of bad dicks.”) This story puts Chappelle in someone else’s shoes, and it suits him more than the judgments and half-hearted apologies stuffed inside of other jokes.