Comedian Dave Chappelle’s three shows in Minneapolis last week brewed up protests and controversy. Chappelle’s sets have been polarizing due to jokes made about the trans and LGBTQ community in past comedy specials.
For example, in his comedy special “The Closer” Chappelle made note that rapper DaBaby received massive backlash over homophobic comments. Chappelle pointed out that in 2018, DaBaby shot and killed a man (he was not charged with his death) and went on to have a rap career until he made comments that angered the LGBTQ community.
“In our country, you can shoot and kill a n***a, but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings,” Chappelle said. He’s also made remarks that activists have deemed transphobic, such as when he said: “gender is a fact” and referred to protesters of his Minneapolis shows as a “transgender hit squad” that he could see from miles away.
Chappelle originally had one show booked at First Avenue for July 20 and added two more at Varsity Theater on July 21 and 22, all of which were sold out. After receiving criticism from patrons and locals—many pointed to First Avenue’s code of conduct banning discriminatory and transphobic speech at the venue—First Avenue canceled its July 20 show just hours before the slated start time. The show was moved to the Varsity Theater.
First Avenue released a statement apologizing, stating, “To staff, artists, and our community, we hear you and we are sorry. We know we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we know we let you down. We are not just a black box with people in it, and we understand that First Avenue is not just a room, but meaningful beyond our walls.
“We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have,” the statement continued. “We know there are some who will not agree with this decision; you are welcome to send feedback.”
First Avenue did not state a direct reason for the cancellation. Texts from a First Avenue employee, shared on the condition of anonymity, stated that the venue’s employees refused to work the show, leaving First Avenue management no choice but to cancel. First Avenue did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
All three nights of shows outside the Varsity Theater had protests of 30 to 50 activists. The protesters brought a megaphone, airhorns and chalk, and verbally sparred with show attendees. Derek T came out to the demonstrations multiple nights, saying he came out to protest “Dave Chappelle saying transphobic stuff.”
Added Derek, “I don’t accept transphobic hate in Minneapolis or anywhere. And I’m out here because these people out here who are supporting are transphobic, giving their money to people who are transphobic.”
An attendee, T. Kozlak of Stillwater, MN, said she was unbothered by the protesters and the jokes in Chappelle’s show. “Thirty years ago, when I was dating my husband who was White, people had an issue with that,” Kozlak said. “We lived through it, and we have biracial children, and they go through stuff all the time.
“This is a show—it’s entertainment,” Kozlak added. “I don’t care unless he’s actively saying you should be against the transgender persons or against gay people in general. I don’t think that’s what he’s doing.”
Five activists were arrested on July 22, with at least one citation issued the previous night. By Monday, all five of the protesters had been released from custody and no charges were filed.
Sheridan Lair, a local activist, was arrested for using chalk to write messages on the wall of the Kollege Klub across the street from the Varsity Theater. Officers washed the chalk off the wall using water bottles brought by protesters.
“I sat in jail for eight hours for what [an officer] just threw a water bottle on,” Lair tweeted.
Discussions over social media got heated, with some calling activists who criticized Chappellas racist. In his show, Chappelle addressed the protesters outside, saying, “I’d respect them more if there was at least one Black person.”
One local activist who asked to remain anonymous emphasized that Black protesters had been present all three nights.
“Some of the ways that he talks about trans people, in [Chappelle’s special] ‘The Closer,’ for example, he speaks about it as if it is strictly a White peoples’ issue and paints it as a Black people versus the trans community issue,” the activist said.
“The fact is that he ignores that Black trans people exist, that Indigenous trans people exist, that trans people of races who aren’t White exist, and that intersecting minority status has a greater impact on their ability to be heard and their ability to exist out in the open.”
The Varsity Theater did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Update July 27, 2022: This story was updated to note that no charges were filed against the protesters.
Cole Miska is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.