Comedian Dave Chappelle shocked audiences on Monday night when he announced that he no longer wished a theater at his alma mater to be named after him. Instead, he wants the new theater at the Duke Ellington School of Arts to be called the “Theater of Artistic Freedom & Expression.”
The news was reported by USA Today, which noted that the controversial comedian graduated from the prestigious high school in 1991. Chappelle made the decision at the naming ceremony in Washington, D.C., claiming that the decision came about after he received backlash from students for alleged transphobic remarks he made in his polarizing Netflix special, “The Closer.”
Dave Chappelle Under Fire For Netflix’s ‘The Closer’ Comments
Last November, Dave Chappelle visited his alma mater when the naming ceremony was initially supposed to take place. However, students were still riled up from the comments he made during the Netflix special “The Closer” and did not want the theater named after him.
Chappelle said that the criticism he received from students “sincerely hurt me.”
“I took a lot of cold shots in business… but that day, they hurt me,” Chappelle told the gathered crowd at the naming ceremony on Monday.
Chappelle said that “a line formed” when he asked what he had done wrong and noted that students had “said everything about gender” but “they didn’t say anything about art.” Chappelle stood in defense of his Netflix special and called it “a masterpiece.” He also alleged that the Netflix special was unfairly condemned by social media.
“No matter what they say about ‘The Closer,’ it is still (one of the) most-watched specials on Netflix,” he told the audience. “The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you are saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my freedom of artistic expression.”
Chappelle said he didn’t want to “reject” the ceremony being named after him, but instead decided last Friday to “defer” the name of the theater to the “Theater of Artistic Freedom & Expression.” Chappelle said he wanted the name to emphasize the “nuance of art” and his “right” and “freedom” of artistic expression.
The decision to change the name of the theater was met with applause, cheering, and a standing ovation.
Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos Backs Dave Chappelle Over ‘The Closer’ Comments
Late last month, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais over their controversial Netflix comedy specials. In a New York Times interview with Maureen Dowd, Sarandos said that he was surprised by the backlash that Chappelle received for his comedy special.
Sarandos indicated that comedians will only figure out what is controversial by “crossing the line every once in a while,” adding, “I think it’s very important to the American culture generally to have free expression.”
Sarandos insisted that Netflix is “programming for a lot of diverse people who have different opinions and different tastes and different styles, and yet we’re not making everything for everybody. We want something for everybody, but everything’s not going to be for everybody.”
Sarandos also doubled down on his support for Dave Chappelle, saying that standing behind the comedian “wasn’t hard in that way.”
He indicated that “rarely do you get the opportunity to put your principles to the test.”
“It was an opportunity to take somebody, like in Dave’s case, who is, by all measure, the comedian of our generation, the most popular comedian on Netflix for sure,” Sarandos continued. “Nobody would say that what he does isn’t thoughtful or smart. You just don’t agree with him.”