Let incisive comedy give us “eyes to see.”
The weekend after the election, I was exhausted like the rest of the country, and my spirit was in need of a good sermon. Thankfully, all I had to do was tune into Saturday Night Live to hear from the great American preacher himself: Dave Chappelle.
As he stepped onto the iconic SNL stage to bring his long-awaited word, I smiled at his familiar Washington, DC, swagger. I’ve been a fan of Chappelle since he played comic Reggie Warrington in the Eddie Murphy classic The Nutty Professor. He has shaped the voice of comedy over three decades, and as he has evolved, comedy has grown with him.
Standups historically have pushed boundaries, skewered politics, and forced us to see the absurdity in our society. But Chappelle has been willing to do so with moral heft and ethical grounding rather than comedic detachment. He jokes, smokes, curses, and shouts, but like a preacher in the heat of a sermon, there’s a point to it. He is a pastor among comedians, and once again he’s got a message for us.
“Don’t even want to wear your mask because it’s oppressive? Try wearing the mask I been wearing all these years. I can’t even tell something true unless it has a punchline behind it,” Chappelle said during his 16-minute SNL monologue. “You guys aren’t ready. You’re not ready for this. You don’t know how to survive yourselves. Black people, we’re the only ones that know how to survive this. … You need us. You need our eyes to save you from yourselves.”
The best comedians, like the best preachers, give us eyes to see. For black comedians, though they’re after laughs, their perspective stems from trauma and suffering.
“If we really took a closer look …