Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones – review (Netflix)

Being funny is a particular skill. There are different types of funny, and different people find different things amusing, but to pursue the profession of making people laugh takes a certain amount of bravery, especially in this day and age.

If you are older, over forty, forty-five years old, you know that comedy has changed a lot. The double entendre comedy of the seventies and into the eighties, with homosexual references, blonde jokes, racial stereotypes, and other utterances that would be considered inappropriate in this modern world of social media outrage and offended-ness, is difficult even to view on YouTube.

Being a stand-up comedian, or even a comedy writer, is fraught with career-ending danger. An offhand tweet can end a career, no matter how old it might be. The vociferous appetite for scandal across media has anyone in the public eye, checking themselves before making any sort of comment.

The subject of fame and how seemingly inappropriate words can bring the great and famous to heel is central to Dave Chappelle’s comedy special Sticks and Stones, that is currently streaming on Netflix. Filmed in front of an appreciative crowd in Atlanta, Chappelle runs through a gamut of uncomfortable subjects.

I did not watch the show as a fan of Chappelle. Truth be told, I have always found Chapelle’s humour a little hit and miss. most notable for his show back in the early noughties, The Dave Chappelle Show, Chappelle’s star was in the ascendency and then he stopped. Walking away from a very lucrative contract, he stepped away from comedy completely.

Though some of his sketches were funny, back then, I found some of them too juvenile to enjoy. Sticks and Stones is not juvenile. It is focused and wonderfully observed. Like the best comedians who take their material from observations of the world around them, Chappelle’s musings are based around empathy.

All the best comedians are empathetic, able to know what buttons to push to amuse the masses and to make it relatable. The real talent, especially these days, is to broach taboo subjects and speak about them without offending the audience.

A less skilled comedian would struggle, but Chappelle, a veteran of nearly thirty years, is a master of delivery, covering subjects such as race, sexuality, fame, and morality. He is not a comedian who tells jokes. He tends to relate stories or observational monologues.

He talks about Kevin Hart’s tribulations around the Oscars and old tweets, Jussie Smollett’s somewhat dubious race attack incident, school shootings, the LGBT’s appropriation of the alphabet, and growing up poor, and other musings.

Chappelle has a wonderful way of delivering his stories and monologues, speaking as though he is amongst close friends, inviting the audience to be complicit in his, occasionally close to the mark, jokes. His way of telling jokes, told confidently and unapologetically, is hard to be offended by.

That is not to say he does not say anything offensive. With the exception of body image, age-related observations, politics, and religion, Chappelle covers every subject that it is possible to offend a person with.

Having said that, one would have to be looking to be offended to find Chappelle’s Netflix show offensive. There is nothing in his delivery that is deliberately malicious or barbed, never trying to persuade the audience that a particular view is the correct one or something that should be adopted, he is just relating his stories in an amusing fashion.

At an hour-long, Sticks and Stones zips along, Chappelle expertly entertaining the audience and viewer over the runtime. The beauty with Chappelle is he owns his comedy, finding his own observations as amusing as we do, occasionally laughing at the absurdity of his jokes.

Unlike the seventies and eighties, as I mentioned before, today’s comedians have to be more aware of the words they speak in jest, whether in public or in a private conversation overheard, lest they are misconstrued and thought to have an opinion that some might find distasteful.

Chappelle’s show walks the line between inappropriate and funny, making a commentary on modern mores whilst giving a nod, with his laconic style and delivery, to older black comedic icons who came before him such as Red Fox, Richard Pryor, and Eddie MurphySticks and Stones is a sharply observed, laugh-out-loud, hour of comedy. Definitely worth a look.

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