An Honest Review of Dave Chapelle’s Sticks and Stones

“Comedian Dave Chapelle’s newest comedy routine Sticks and Stones is a mixed bag of some underwhelming/underdeveloped concepts and some genuinely hilarious jokes and social commentary. He depends a bit too much on the meta-commentary of the state of ‘offensive comedy’ in 2019, but–given the internet outrage machine’s reaction to it–I guess he’s not wrong. It starts off slow but eventually ramps up into something consistently insightful and entertaining, and it’s worth a watch.”

That’s my elevator pitch review. If you don’t want to read any further, that above is all you need to know. For more details, though, read on!

So, I don’t really like Dave Chapelle. If I were to make a list of my favorite comedians, his name would be no where near it. That’s not to say I dislike him. He’s just up there with Lenny Bruce and Seinfeld and Richard Pryor as people who I understand the immense importance of but who I personally don’t find all that funny. That’s just not what my sense of humor is. His early stand-up and The Chapelle Show are pretty okay, as far as I’m concerned. I feel the need to bring that up because I was totally ready and willing to jump aboard the “This stand-up sucks,” train if it was warranted. But I really, genuinely do not understand all the hate Sticks and Stones as been getting. I’m not invested in Dave’s career. I didn’t know he was doing a new show. I wasn’t looking forward to it. When I saw it was getting bad ratings, I didn’t feel any kind of way about it. So I say this as someone who very firmly cannot be considered a “fangirl” of Dave Chapelle: I don’t get why people are so mad at this.

I watched this stand-up specifically because of the negative press it’s been getting. Like I said, I didn’t like Dave enough to seek out his stand-up on my own without reason. When I clicked on it, I still didn’t expect it to be good. I’m still subscribed to a few YouTubers in the “red pill” community, and they seemed to like Sticks and Stones, and that was not something I saw as a sign of quality. The last time I tried watching an hour-long comedy special that they liked for “sticking it to the SJWs,” I got about half-way through before turning it off. It was nothing but:

1.) Mention a left-leaning talking point

2.) Say it’s stupid and that people who believe it are pussies

3.) Call them snowflakes for getting mad at you

4.) Repeat until the end of time

Supposedly, something about that above set-up was supposed to contain jokes and be funny. I didn’t catch any. And before I’m accused on just not finding it funny because the comedian was a conservative making fun of liberals, I don’t like Trevor Noah or Samantha Bee’s left-wing “comedy” for literally the exact same reason. Call me crazy, but I like my comedy to contain jokes, not just smarmy condescension and the weird idea that mentioning the existence of dissenting opinions is funny. So, I was expecting Sticks and Stones to just be another under-inspired and unfunny whine-fest about how SJWs suck performed by a comedian who I didn’t find funny even back when he was in his prime, just based off of the attention it was getting. But it’s not. It’s actually really funny. And what’s more, I don’t even understand why the left-o-sphere is offended.

The “journalists” who’ve been reviewing this will insist they’re not offended, but it’s all said with the embarrassing, obvious air of something who just face-planted into the mud and who gets up and says, “I meant to do that, so by laughing at my embarrassment, you’re actually making me feel good! So there!” They’re offended. That much is obvious. As far as I can see, it’s yet another example of liberal gatekeeping and their slowly atrophying sense of humor. Because this is a very liberal stand-up special.

The fact that so many red-pillers like it confuses me, because the overwhelming majority of its jokes are about topics a lesser comedian would be called a snowflake for even bringing up. And the “offensive” jokes in question are just making fun of things that the left-o-sphere itself has brought up and critiqued before. One of the main things they’re totally not offended by, guys, are the jokes about the LGBTQ+ community. To be fun and ironic, I’m going to make a list of the things he joked about in that bit, and provide a link to a liberal media publication talking about the exact same thing:

But, for some reason, Dave Chapelle is being homophobic/transphobic for joking about those very real dynamics that they themselves want to discuss. I even saw one “review” that said he was making fun of bisexual and trans people even though bisexual and trans people were the ones he was defending in the joke. It very much just comes across as the “only we’re allowed to mention our problems with in-fighting” kind of outrage. I agree the following joke about transgender people where he joked about being a Chinese man trapped in a black man’s body wasn’t that funny, but that’s only because it was underdeveloped/underwritten. I think that people also missed that that particular joke wasn’t at the expense of transgender people, it was at the expense of his wife. He flat out says, “I wrote this joke because my wife is Asian and it annoys her, and I like annoying her.” So even though I didn’t think it was funny, even I can acknowledge that it was tongue-and-cheek and not meant to talk down to anyone.

There are a few jokes like that in the special that I just don’t think were written as well as they could have been because Chapelle was overtly relying on the meta-commentary about “people taking offense to what I just said” to be the punchline of the joke. One of the reviews said that it was “unnecessarily offensive,” and I don’t agree with that. I don’t think anything in this was overly offensive. I think Chapelle did unnecessarily bring up how supposedly offensive he was being too much, though. Especially in the first 20 or so minutes of the special, he relied a lot on the Big Joke(TM) being him pointing out that he just said something that would make someone mad. He wasn’t even wrong, given the totally-not-offended-but-I-still-hate-it response he’s been getting; I just think he wasted valuable minutes on meta-commentary that could have gone to fleshing the actual jokes out more.

He gets over that pretty quickly, however, and the special really hits the ground running. Once he says the line “I’m not a nigger either” (which is a fucking great punchline to the joke in context, in addition to being a very poignant commentary on “the n-word” debate) every joke becomes incredibly well-written and well-thought out. The majority of the special’s back half was him discussing the opioid epidemic in Middle America and how he alternatively sympathizes with poor white people, gives no fucks about them, and is afraid of them because he’s a black man living in poor, white Ohio and he’s prepping for him or his kids getting shot by some discontented white kid. That’s why the left-o-sphere hating this confuses me a lot, because I don’t think you’ll find better commentary on a black man living in White America(TM) than the last 30 minutes of Sticks and Stones by Dave Chapelle.

The bit about him going to K-Mart to buy a gun to defend his house from white heroin junkies is 5 minutes of hilarity. He managed to be very funny while simultaneously having reflective observations about what is happening to other people and his own emotional reactions to it. He points out it’s a lot like the crack epidemic, and is very honest about how his knee-jerk reaction is to give no fucks about their community being ravaged by opioids the same way white communities gave no fucks about black communities being ravaged by crack. He then flips things around by talking about his own background growing up poor and how it helps him empathize with the situation more. The final line/joke is a perfect ending that wraps up the entire show in a bit of reincorporation that was very well done.

All in all, the longer Sticks and Stones went on, the more I enjoyed it. It takes some time for Dave to get over the hump of tiring meta-commentary, but once he does, he’s pretty damn great. It’s a very back-loaded special, to be sure, but I can’t hold that against him too much. As I’ve already pointed out, Chapelle was apparently right to have so many asides about the state of “offensive comedy” seeing as how people responded to his relatively inoffensive jokes the exact way he said they would. I guess I’m happy the “red pillers” got tricked into watching a stand-up that makes fun of gun nuts and talks about race issues from the POV of a black person, and I’m sad that “progressives” couldn’t get over one underwritten gay joke and 1 minute of him making fun of internet feminists enough to appreciate the rest of the very well-done social commentary. I was very pleasantly surprised by this and am definitely going to go back to it again, although I’m probably going to click around to the best parts instead of watching it front-to-back.