NEW YORK — Comedian Dave Chappelle on Saturday said he does not consider himself transphobic.
“I wouldn’t consider myself that because I’m not even sure what the term means,” he told the Washington Blade during a one-on-one interview that took place backstage at Radio City Music Hall shortly before 1 a.m. after he performed with “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah and other comics on Aug. 18. “Do I discriminate against somebody because they’re trans? I would like to think absolutely not.”
“It’s not something that I’m going to say I clearly understand this, that and the other,” added Chappelle, during the interview that lasted nearly 15 minutes. “I’m not an obstructionist of anybody’s lifestyle, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or people I love and I don’t believe that lifestyle does.”
The outspoken and controversial comedian made the comments in response to a question the Blade asked from Monica Roberts, a Houston-based transgender activist of color, about why he “persists in telling those hurtful jokes when black trans women have asked him not to because those jokes lead to violence and murders aimed at us.”
Chappelle during his show made jokes about President Trump’s decision to ban trans service members from the U.S. military and speculation that Caitlyn Jenner may pose nude in an upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated that trans advocates have previously criticized. He also used the phrase “faggotty ass” on stage, but Chappelle later applauded gay men who challenge discrimination that he said they confront in their lives.
Chappelle also mocked North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which banned trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity and prohibited local municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.
“That law was fucking absurd,” he told the Blade. “It was clearly a mean-spirited law.”
“You could say whatever you want about someone’s lifestyle, but denying them access to a restroom is a denial of their humanity,” he added. “We all need to use the fucking bathroom. No one’s going to go through the pains that transgender people go through so that they can be in another bathroom and look at naked women. What the fuck are you talking about? These types of things make no sense.”
Roberts on Tuesday dismissed Chappelle’s comments.
“Being transgender is not a ‘lifestyle,’” she told the Blade. “Its the essence of who we are as people. And some transgender people are unapologetically Black and catching hell for being both.”
Chappelle’s month-long residency at Radio City began on Aug. 5, eight days after comedian Lil Duval said on “The Breakfast Club” morning radio show that he would kill a woman he was dating if he found out she was trans.
Roberts pointed out to the Blade that Lil Duval made his “joke” less than three days before TeeTee Dangerfield, a trans woman of color, was shot to death outside an Atlanta apartment complex. She also noted Texas lawmakers adjourned last week without considering two bills that would have limited trans people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
“I appreciate a good joke as much as anyone,” Roberts told the Blade, referring to Chappelle. “But when jokes lead to dehumanization, violence and death aimed at trans people, that’s when a line has been crossed and it has to be called out.”
Rev. Merrick Moise, a trans man of color in Baltimore who is a longtime LGBT rights advocate, echoed Roberts.
“Dave is an example of many who just don’t get it,” Moise told the Blade on Monday. “They may not have a virulent anti-trans stance but failed to grasp the hurtful nature of their jokes. Clearly he needs more education and conversation with black trans people to understand the gravity of his jokes made in poor taste.”
Chappelle said he considers comedy a “reconciliation of paradox.”
“I consider problems of race paradox,” he told the Blade. “These are true things that shouldn’t be true and I’m certain that in the trans narrative, there is also a lot of paradox. I don’t even think they would deny that.”
“I’m learning like the rest of the population is and now they have a platform,” added Chappelle. “They’re articulating these things and we’re all here . . . this is news to many of us.”
Trump is a ‘narcissist’
Chappelle spoke to the Blade a week after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., left Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old counter-protester, dead.
He mocked the white supremacists who marched through the University of Virginia campus with torches. Chappelle also sharply criticized President Trump over his assertion that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.
“To see people dress like him and carry Tiki torches and chant those things and his softball response made clear to me this guy is a narcissist,” Chappelle told the Blade. “You didn’t want to criticize these motherfuckers because they look like you, because they dress like you.”
“You’re wrong,” he added, referring to Trump. “If you’re that committed or that in bed with people that diabolical that you can’t say what’s clearly right and wrong, I don’t know. It was a small line, but on both sides — on many sides — it was like Jesus Christ.”
Chappelle also told the Blade he has “serious questions about” whether Trump is “actually qualified or if he’s actually committed” to being president.
“A good leader can forget about himself,” he said. “This guy’s fucking admitting how great his life was. It’s not a chore motherfucker. You asked for the job.”
In spite of his pointed criticism of Trump, Chappelle insisted his comedy is not part of the organized resistance against the administration.
“I don’t put that kind of importance on it. I have a relationship with an audience and we talk about things we think about,” he said. “It’s like a relationship with a friend. It isn’t an act of resistance. It’s just like yo, let’s talk it out.”
Ben Jealous ‘coming from a place of sincerity’
Chappelle, 43, was born in D.C. and spent his early childhood in Silver Spring. He graduated from Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest.
Chappelle’s father was former NAACP President Ben Jealous’ godfather.
“Our parents were very close,” Chappelle told the Blade. “That was a person that I heard about all my life.”
Chappelle moved to New York after he graduated high school. He told the Blade that he and Jealous, who was attending Columbia University, “hit it off.”
“Ben was brilliant,” said Chappelle. “He was funny. He was fun, but he also kind of woke me up to a lot of things because even back then he was very socially active.”
Jealous in May announced he is running for governor of Maryland in 2018. He attended Chappelle’s show on Aug. 18.
Jealous’ campaign raffled tickets for the show to his supporters. He was also among those who went backstage afterwards.
“He cares,” Chappelle told the Blade. “He’s a real dude. I just know he’s coming from a place of sincerity.”
“It would be very exciting to me to see a state get governed by a guy that I am certain gives a fuck,” he added.
Jealous — whose parents traveled to D.C. from Baltimore to get married in 1966 because Maryland law did not allow interracial marriages at the time — campaigned in support of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law that voters upheld in 2012. The NAACP board of directors in the same year passed a resolution in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Jealous was president of the NAACP when it approved the resolution and another in support of a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
He supported a bill that banned discrimination in Maryland based on gender identity. Jealous has also criticized HB 2 and a religious freedom law that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed in 2016.
“Dave is family,” Jealous told the Blade on Tuesday in a statement. “I know his heart, I know the compassion he has for all people, and I admire his courage in using comedy to make us all stop and think about injustice in all forms.”
“As a civil rights leader and community organizer, I’ve devoted my life to the same fight against injustice, and now I want to take that experience and use it to make Maryland a place where we do big things again,” he added.