Dave Chappelle Riffed on Kanye’s Antisemitism in ‘SNL’ Monologue, Drawing Mixed Reactions

Discursive bedlam broke out as a result of Chappelle's comments about Ye's comments about Jews.

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Dave Chappelle Riffed on Kanye’s Antisemitism in ‘SNL’ Monologue, Drawing Mixed Reactions

Comedian Dave Chappelle continued his tradition of hosting the post-election episode of Saturday Night Live (something he did after the 2016 and 2020 elections), and the response to his 15-minute opening monologue (really, a mini-standup set) has been comparable to the election itself in terms of illustrating just how divided this country is.

By now it practically goes without saying that a set from Chappelle will inflame some—that seems, in fact, to be his point. Most of the backlash (and praise) has focused on the lengthy section of the monologue concerning Ye (the provocateur formerly and sometimes still known as Kanye West). Chappelle specifically discussed Ye’s comments on Jews, which have been long and numerous and mostly focused on the conspiracy that Jewish people control entertainment and the media. Chappelle referenced Ye’s now-removed episode of the Drink Champs podcast from October, but he did not discuss the reports of Ye’s frequently expressed admiration for Hitler or his alignment with white supremacist rhetoric in the form of wearing a White Lives Matter shirt at this year’s Paris Fashion Week. Chappelle had limited time, but by only presenting part of the story, the comedian risked neutralizing Ye’s bigotry.

Chappelle at times allowed that there was actually something to Ye’s comments, only to bring things over the top with a punchline. Chappelle said, for example:

I’ve been to Hollywood. I don’t want you to get mad at me, I’m just telling you, I’ve been to Hollywood and this is just what I saw: It’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot. But that doesn’t mean anything! You know what I mean? There’s a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, it doesn’t mean we run the place.

Chappelle also said that Ye broke “the rules of perception”: “If they’re Black, then it’s a gang. If they’re Italian, it’s a mob. If they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it.”

Chappelle cheekily opened his monologue with a disclaimer: “I denounce antisemitism in all its forms. And I stand with my friends in the Jewish community.” And then, after a beat: “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.” He said he doesn’t think Ye is “crazy” but “possibly not well.” He allowed that the “delusion that Jews run show business” is “not a crazy thing to think,” but that “it’s a crazy thing to say out loud in a climate like this.”

The wide-ranging response cast doubt on there being any set rules to perception at all. Early reports on the monologue in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Variety, and Indiewire, among outlets, characterized Chappelle as having mocked Ye. However, Anti-Defamation League national director Jonathan Greenblatt labeled Chappelle’s remarks as antisemitic in a tweet:

In an essay, NPR’s Eric Deggans wrote this of Chappelle’s “disappoint[ing]” monologue: “…If we’re going to elevate particularly skilled performers like Chappelle – because there’s a sense their work also contains powerful truths about society and life – then we also have to note when they offer material that does the opposite and obscures an issue which should be cut and dried.” Time Out’s Adam Feldman tweeted that Chappelle was normalizing antisemitism.

Chappelle wrapped his monologue by saying, “It shouldn’t be this scary to talk about anything.” (Disagree!) He continued: “It’s making my job incredibly difficult.” Well, since he makes millions of dollars by standing on a stage talking, it should be difficult. Otherwise, what in the world is the point? Chappelle goes out of his way to tackle controversial issues, sometimes without nuance or seemingly enough knowledge to do so honestly (inoculating him from any kind of it’s-funny-‘cause-it’s-true justifications). He gets up on stage, does his thing, creates a firestorm of offense and defense that lasts for days and days. It might be “incredibly difficult,” but he makes it look easy.

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