Both comedians made damn sure everybody was aware of the hot water they’ve found themselves in — Rogan for his spurious vaccine-alternative claims, and, more recently, Chappelle for the controversy surrounding his Netflix special standup, The Closer. But the sold-out crowd of nearly 17,000 people was fervent in its support for the queer-theory-questioning, gender-binary-reinforcing comics. The fans were also adamant in their collective reasoning that nothing that’s been said by either man warranted introspection or criticism.
The show came less than a month after the release of The Closer, Chappelle’s sixth and final Netflix standup special, which netted him over $20 million. The special is a largely unfunny, often unsettling look at a comedian whose fame, fortune, and reputation ensures, for better or worse, that he never needs to evolve or self-reflect again.
The majority of The Closer’s 72 minutes are spent justifying Chappelle’s antiquated views on gender, particularly his frustration with a trans community that “doesn’t get” his schtick. It closes with a straw-person argument regarding a white trans woman fan-turned-close-friend who recently died by suicide.
Netflix’s fallout from the special — and the subsequent fallout from its handling of that fallout — has been as absurd as it has been infuriating and avoidable. In an Internet of reinforcing bubbles, one might think that the online response perhaps ensured actual consequences for both the streaming giant and the self-ascribed G.O.A.T. comedian. Chappelle’s tone and demeanor last night suggested no such reflection, something that didn’t come as any real surprise, but was all the more unnerving amongst a crowd of thousands applauding for Hannah Gadsby gags and “I’m gonna get cancelled for this one” punchlines.
Chappelle and Rogan were prefaced by a trio of heavy-hitting, controversy-stoking comedians: Jeffrey Ross, Donnell Rawlings, and Tom Segura. Each laid into his own brand of aggressively masculine material, although Segura was the only one who could adequately justify the jokes. The rest regularly defaulted to a string of punchlines involving stereotypes such as effeminate men, and nagging women.
Joe Rogan was Joe Rogan. That is to say, a walking id of semiliterate machismo with just enough self-awareness to make him culpable for his fans’ outsized influence on pop culture.
“If you’re getting your vaccine advice from me, is that really my fault?” Rogan asked to uproarious laughter. To answer briefly: Yes. The Joe Rogan Experience is far and away the most listened-to podcast in America, with guests ranging from Elon Musk to Bernie Sanders and Ben Shapiro. Hearing Rogan hawk Ivermectin treatments for Covid-19 in lieu of proven, effective vaccines makes him an unequivocal accomplice to misinformation-peddling and pseudoscience. But, y’know, it’s all for the LOLZ.
Chappelle, unsurprisingly, took to the stage to a standing ovation.
“I haven’t been in this much trouble in my life,” he quipped early on to enthusiastic applause. On the one hand, it was refreshing to see the comedian perform a set without retreading his past material verbatim. On the other hand, his past performances would have been more palatable than listening to this hour-long roast of a supposed “PC culture.” A culture that, in all actuality, is really only asking for influential icons like Chappelle to acknowledge everyone’s humanity and quit with the cheap, open-mic jokes at others’ expense.
Unfortunately, at this stage in their respective careers, both Chappelle and Rogan will, in all likelihood, continue to rake in obscene amounts of money in literal echo-chamber arenas across the country. Despite what left-leaning social media bubbles may say, Chappelle has not only escaped this latest queer-phobic controversy unscathed, but is now bolstered by his fans, friends, and newly minted TERF allies. Shows like last night’s in New Orleans make it well known that the only thing “cancelled” comedians have to fear are stale punchlines and one-note sets. And even then, it’s hard to fear something that still makes you so much money.