Yesterday, I had lunch with a good friend at a restaurant in New York that shares a bathroom with the adjacent comedy club. It’s a little awkward, but it’s a bathroom, you just have to walk through the comedy club to get to it. I’ve done it many times, without incident. Until yesterday, when Dave Chappelle decided I’d make a fun target.
As I was walking past the stage, I could hear him calling out “miss, miss.” I ignored him, since I was really just there to use the bathroom, and what could he possibly want to say to me? I’m just an average white girl, dressed in a very average t-shirt and jeans.
But he kept calling out “miss, miss,” so I finally turned my head. Note: I did not “ask” for this by initially making eye contact. He was looking straight at me, as was the rest of the crowd. Fuck.
“Yes?” I said, nervously, wondering if I was even embarrassing myself by saying that much because he really was talking to the person behind me or something.
I should have been so lucky. He was indeed talking to me.
“You look like my neighbor, Jenna,” he said. The crowd watched for my reaction, as if I was supposed to have one.
“Nope, not her,” I said, trying to make my way closer to the bathroom, trying to wrap this up before it went anywhere.
But Dave wasn’t done with me yet. “I want to fuck my neighbor Jenna,” he continued, leering at me while swinging the microphone in a suggestive way between his legs. I guess that made him bold and dangerous? The audience loved it.
I have spent way too many decades dealing with men like this. I have spent way too many decades backing down from a fight, telling myself it wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t going to do it again. I wasn’t going to look away. I wasn’t going to let him make me the victim, the object of some crude (and not funny) joke. He wasn’t going to use me as a prop.
“Does she want to fuck you?” I asked, turning to face him head on.
“What’s that?” He seemed startled that I could talk.
I repeated myself, only louder. I was not going to let him dismiss me. After all, everyone was watching. I would not walk away. I would not be quiet. I would not let him laugh at my expense.
“Does she want to fuck you?” I asked again.
I don’t know if Dave was more startled by the fact that I was still talking or by what I had said. All I know is that he awkwardly stammered that he had a wife, and he wasn’t sure, and he hadn’t asked her. The microphone was no longer swinging suggestively.
I kept walking to the bathroom, figuring we were finally done.
“Hey, miss, do you want to fuck me?” he called out, just as I was about to reach the sanctuary of the bathroom. I was bored with the exchange and had no interest in hearing about his predictable mid-life crisis. I called out over my shoulder, “No,” and entered the bathroom.
As the door closed behind me, I could hear him try to regain some kind of power by joking that he could always spot a New York Times reporter (I’m not). The audience laughed, and I wondered if they had Stockholm Syndrome because none of this was funny, and certainly not in 2019.
But Dave wasn’t done.
When he saw me walking back through the crowd, on my way to the restaurant, he again called out to me.
I turned to face him, feeling zero interest in continuing this conversation or in indulging his terrible routine, but everyone was watching.
Dave, not exactly torn up over it, asked if he had offended me. The audience laughed merrily at the pseudo-edgy humor of a post-MeToo comic.
Fuck this shit, I thought. I’m not the victim, and not only was this not about me being offended, it was about really awful jokes. I wanted to make it very clear to him that this had nothing to do with me being too sensitive and everything to do with the fact that his set — and his use of me — was garbage.
“Yes.” I replied.
The room went silent. Dave went silent. People looked at me, and then at him, and then back at me.
“Really?” he asked, as if he was about to go into some schtick about delicate snowflakes.
I waited a beat.
And then, with a tone that expressed my utter boredom and disdain with this poor excuse for comedy material, I said, “No, not at all.” I turned my back to him and left the room. Someone gave me a high five.
The room erupted in laughter, only this time it was at him. Dave awkwardly stammered, “guess I can’t take a joke.”
No, it’s not that you can’t take a joke, Dave. It’s that your jokes suck. It’s that your jokes are banal and boring. Your jokes are dated, if they were even ever funny. At one point you may have wrestled with actual questions of identity, race, and power, but now you’ve resorted to picking on women in your audience and swinging microphones suggestively, which is all the more disappointing coming from someone who used to have an interesting perspective.
Maybe safe white middle class audiences think you’re a maverick, but that’s only because they haven’t heard Richard Pryor.