Long list of iconic Black comics who affirmed gender non-conforming people or were members of the LGBTQ community themselves.
But the platform has been one of the few places in the black community where LGBTQ members had the freedom to be themselves — or to escape the cruelty they faced in the outside world. The chapel has taken away some of that space.
“We have a long tradition of trans and non-gender conforming artists throughout our history, from the Harlem Renaissance,” says Marlon M. Bailey, author of “Butch Queens Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture.” in Detroit.”
However, with the full focus on Chappelle, it’s easy to forget that there were black comedians who took huge risks to affirm LGBTQ people and be honest about their sexuality.
Richard Pryor and Moms Maybellie
Consider the story of Richard Pryor, arguably the greatest standup comic of all time.
There is a generation of moviegoers who only know him through Hollywood movies like “The Toy”. But Pryor was a different performer on the comic standup stage: fearless, unpredictable, profane. And be honest about your bisexuality.
“I went out last night with a crowd of my friends,
It must have been women, ‘Cause I don’t like a man.
wear my clothes like a fan,
Talk to girls like any old man.”
RuPaul from Geraldine. till
Chappelle may have a problem with trans women, but Black audiences have embraced traditionally Black male comics that create gender-bending characters in clothes.
And so do many contemporary Black male comics. It’s almost a rite of passage for a black male comic to create a female persona or stage character. Entertainer and author Tyler Perry built his entertainment empire on the substantial chest of “Madia,” the down-home, wise-cracking black matriarch. RuPaul has a huge following.
Comedians as diverse as Martin Lawrence (“Big Mom House”), and Marlon and Shawn Wayans (“White Chicks”) have dressed for some of his most popular films.
Certainly, there must be debate about whether black men impersonate women or portray LGBTQ characters on stage and in film. Some of these depictions have reinforced stereotypes or are in bad taste. But none of them have the ungrateful cruelty to LGBTQ people that Chappelle brings to his Netflix special.
“Right now, the trans community is under siege, especially the trans community of color,” says Bailey, who is also a professor in the Department of African and African American Studies at Arizona State University. “Artists should keep that in mind.”
Chappelle has something else to keep in mind.
From a glance, his latest special is success. It has generated headlines, audiences and added millions to his personal fortune. He can tell himself that all great comedians spew outrage. It’s part of their job description. In this way they force people to think. This is one reason why Chappelle, a student of comic history, received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
But the aspiring comedian also faces another overlooked audience – the greats who inspired him, some of whom are still alive. They face this audience during each performance. They must contend with masters and borrow from them before they can develop their own voice. Chappelle says he was inspired by Pryor. Prior was inspired by Lenny Bruce. The black comic duo of Key & Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) were inspired by everyone from Abbott and Costello to Steve Martin.
Chapel’s Betrayal of Black Comic Tradition
Chappell turned his back on this audience by doing something he never did – making a career out of following a group that is even more reprehensible than black people.
Chappelle says the great comics that inspired him didn’t make that mistake.
“The chapel will retreat into its niche as an old crank, where all is expected and safe,” Bramesco says.
Chappelle’s beef with the LBGQT community insults the memory of all the Black comic greats who made their careers — and millions — possible.
They created a safe space on the comedy stage for those who did not fit into traditional gender norms. Black comics like Pryor weren’t perfect when it came to their sexual politics (Pryor described his gay rights fundraiser by going after white gay people and asking the crowd to “kiss my happy, rich black ass”.
But he proved that a black comic can be sharp and brilliant without making another stigmatized group think great.
Credit : www.cnn.com