Dave Chappelle recently invited students at his old high school to speak with him amid continued controversy surrounding his Netflix special The Closer. According to a Politico report, he and a camera crew made a surprise visit to D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts on November 23 for an hourlong Q&A session. Chappelle was reportedly met with a mixture of boos and cheers. A spokesperson for Duke Ellington told Politico that the comedian specifically invited “the voices of discontent” to question him, adding that this made his supporters “the silent majority.” Around eight out of 580 students in attendance were said to have stepped up to the mic. One student reportedly called the comedian a “bigot,” adding, “I’m 16 and I think you’re childish, you handled it like a child.” According to two anonymous students who spoke with Politico, Chappelle responded, “My friend, with all due respect, I don’t believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day.” (As with many of his live shows, phones were confiscated at the door to prevent recordings.)
Another question that Politico merely described as “antagonistic” reportedly prompted Chappelle to reply, “I’m better than every instrumentalist, artist, no matter what art you do in this school, right now, I’m better than all of you. I’m sure that will change. I’m sure you’ll be household names soon.” Per Politico, after a student in the audience shouted, “Your comedy kills,” the comedian shot back, “N- - - - - are killed every day.” He reportedly then asked, “The media’s not here, right?” The two students who spoke with Politico said they were afraid to speak up during the assembly because Chappelle often responded to questions by laughing or making jokes. The comedian reportedly singled out a student who left the room, saying, “Of course she left early.” Seemingly confirming the interaction, Chappelle’s spokesperson told Politico that the person in question “couldn’t even entertain the idea of a conversation.”
Chappelle was said to have softened his tone toward the end of the event, noting that he did not want to hear of any death threats against students who protested against him. “This is my family and whether they know it or not I love these kids,” a student recalled him saying. Before leaving, Chapelle also gave out tickets to a screening of his documentary Untitled, along with 600 Thanksgiving meals for students and staff. According to his alma mater, the comedian has contributed millions of dollars to the school and created several high-profile opportunities for its students. The naming of Duke Ellington’s theater in his honor was previously postponed due to student pushback. But according to a November 12 statement from the school, the delay was only made in order to address community concerns and create an opportunity for a “teachable moment” around artistic freedom and responsibility. In the statement, the school said it still planned to move forward with the event, which was initially requested by one of its founders, in April. However, Chappelle later wrote on Instagram that he would “gladly step aside” if a majority of donors noted that they objected. Asserting that his only intention is to help the school train its artists, he said he would follow the opinion that brought in the highest collective dollar amount by the naming ceremony in the spring. “And if you don’t care enough to donate … please, shut the fuck up, forever,” he wrote.