Just a matter of weeks since it was released on Netflix, Dave Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones is surely already worthy of a place on any list of greatest stand-up comedy specials of all time.
That’s a bold statement, no doubt. But this is a stand-up who can arguably be considered the GOAT, and he’s at the very top of his game over the course of a hilarious, thought-provoking hour.
Like all great comedy specials, this will stand the test of time. When we look back in 20 years and remember Dave at his peak, we’ll still laugh and we’ll agree that the dude was right. The ‘cancel culture’ that’s growing ever more aggressive every day is just wrong.
Chappelle isn’t saying that people who do or say nasty things should be allowed to get away with it. He’s simply saying that a mistake, in most cases, shouldn’t bring about the end of a career. And of course, he says it in a way that’ll have you bent over in waves of laughter-induced agony.
In making his point, Chappelle fires shots at Michael Jackson’s accusers, and also at transgendered people. Now on the face of it, targeting these particular folk is in very poor taste. But Chappelle, as ever, isn’t simply sniping at easy targets. There’s more to it than that.
Building on his previous Netflix specials, Sticks & Stones feels like a polished, final version of his latest tour material. And while some have criticised Sticks & Stones for going over ground already covered by Chappelle and others, we should really count ourselves fortunate to have seen this material moulded so skilfully into what it is now.
He has had run-ins with Trans people in the past. And rather than shy away from the topic, he goes for it again, and in outrageous fashion. And while it’s not for anyone else to comment on how it might make a Trans person feel, from the outside it doesn’t feel like an outright attack.
As for criticism of revisiting the Michal Jackson story, it should be pointed out that Chappelle’s focus now is on the recent Leaving Neverland documentary. It includes a Macaulay Culkin joke that would land a comedian with less skill on a watch list.
And there’s a segment on the Jussie Smollett “attack” that is right up there with the funniest material ever to be delivered on stage – even if it’s just the way Chappelle says the dude’s name that gets most of the laughs.
There is possibly a case that, taken without due respect to context, the Trans material won’t look great in years to come. A lot of truly great comedy specials have suffered from subsequent criticism. Eddie Murphy’s AIDS material is one particularly troubling example. But maybe that’s part of what makes them great – the willingness to say what few others would dare to, or at least possessing the comedy chops to do it in such a way that audiences will still watch despite their misgivings.
Chappelle has already proven himself to be one of the very best to ever have told jokes on stage. Sticks & Stones only solidifies this standing.