A little less than two weeks after it was reported that Dave Chappelle's scheduled November 23rd appearance at his former high school in Washington D.C. for a fundraiser had been postponed over concerns for student protests and walkouts, the comedian made a surprise visit to Duke Ellington School of the Arts on Tuesday to address the controversy surrounding his Netflix stand-up special The Closer. With a camera crew in tow (though students were reportedly required to have their phones sealed away), Chappelle met with approximately 580 students in the main auditorium for a session that was definitely not without serious tension. Confirmed by Chappelle rep Carla Sims, one student (of a reported eight who asked questions or made statements) called the comedian a "bigot" and added, "I'm 16 and I think you're childish, you handled it like a child," referring to how Chappelle handled the backlash to his comedy special and responded to the trans community.
Politico spoke with two students at the session who said: "they were afraid to speak up at the assembly because Chappelle often laughed at students' questions or responded with jokes." For example, in response to the student above: "My friend, with all due respect, I don't believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day." Pushing back on another challenging question from the audience, Chappelle apparently felt the need to put his current resume on display for an auditorium filled with high school students: "I'm better than every instrumentalist, artist, no matter what art you do in this school, right now, I'm better than all of you. I'm sure that will change. I'm sure you'll be household names soon." After a student shouted, "Your comedy kills," Chappelle responded, "N****** are killed every day" before asking, "The media's not here, right?". When a student made the decision to leave the discussion, Chappelle reportedly commented to those remaining, "Of course she left early" (with Sims stating to Politico that the student who left "couldn't even entertain the idea of a conversation").
But the tone wasn't totally adversarial. As the session went on, Chappelle made it a point to look to his cameras to speak out against the death threats students have received since speaking out on the matter. "His whole tone changed," one of the students said. "He said, "This is my family, and whether they know it or not I love these kids. … I don't want to hear about any threats to these kids. These kids don't deserve that.'" Unfortunately, it was the kind of tone that the student wished Chappelle had during the entire discussion. "He was really kind. If [only] he [had] acted that way the whole time… There was no reason to be mean to us. He was just laughing at kids."
A father who spoke to Politico off the record to protect his and his daughter's identity questioned Chappelle's use of the n-word and the school being okay with it: "As a parent, I have to say I have a real problem. … He was being dead serious and using the n-word on the record. What kind of judgment is the school showing to allow that?" Sims' response? "They are complaining that he talked and said the n-word. If anything, Dave is putting the school on the map." And in what we're thinking was a joke (?!), Sims said about the discussion overall, "He [Chappelle] said these kids deserve an 'F' for 'forgiveness,'" but that they should "give them some space to grow" and that "they are going to say things that are immature."
To help them "grow" a little faster, Chappelle made sure students walked away with three tickets to his Netflix doc Untitled that was screening at the Capital One Arena that night, In addition, 600 Thanksgiving meals were brought in for students and staff.