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The Accidental Turitz: Why Antisemitism Is Never Funny, Even When It’s From Dave Chappelle on SNL

Man, I’m so tired. Exhausted, really, but the thing is, I’m going to have to power through, because there’s clearly no end in sight.

I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live with any regularity in a couple decades, but when something big happens on a given weekend’s show, I’ll usually check out the clips and get up to speed on whatever hilarity ensued. Most of the time, I’m glad I did. Not this weekend, though. Nope, this one was pretty bad, and the overwhelming response to it makes it even worse.

In case you’re not aware, Dave Chappelle hosted SNL for the third time, and with that privilege, the show’s overlord, Lorne Michaels, gave the comedian a 15-minute slot for the opening monologue, which is only about three times its normal length. In that span, Chappelle talked about a lot of things, including the obvious stupidity of former football star and current Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, cancel culture, and a few other things, but what he talked about most extensively was Jews.

After starting out with the somber and sober declaration, “I denounce antisemitism in all its forms, and I stand with my friends in the Jewish community,” he then ruined this lovely sentiment with a joke about how Kanye West could have bought himself some time by uttering such a phrase.

This quickly established that Chappelle was going to be playing Jew hatred for laughs, and you can imagine how quickly the rest of it went downhill. He talked about Jews in Hollywood, how there’s a lot of them there — “like, a lot” — and how it’s okay to “think” they run things… you just can’t say it out loud, like how a group of Blacks is a gang, a group of Italians is a mob, and a group of Jews is a coincidence you can’t really talk about. He also lamented how the two words you can’t say together are “the” and “Jews,” as if it goes well for anyone who dares to use the phrase “the Blacks” these days. I’ll go on… since Chappelle did.

Chappelle then conflated Ye’s issues with those of basketball star Kyrie Irving — they don’t actually have anything to do with each other, but I’ll get to that soon enough — and he talked about “show business rules” and the Jews, ignoring the greater issue of society and the Jews because that’s obviously not something that matters to the comedian, or to whatever point he’s trying to make. He’s focused on Hollywood. This is a guy who signed a deal with Viacom and then threw a tantrum a decade later, practically holding the conglomerate hostage until it caved to his demands.

Notably, Chappelle, who firmly believes that he should be able to say whatever he wants and not have to face any consequences for it, has been in hot water before — for homophobic and anti-Trans comments that appeared in a recent Netflix special. Both he and the streaming service defended what he said and talked about free speech and cancel culture, but I will remind you yet again that this is not what free speech actually is, and that his refusal to acknowledge the hurt his words cause is not only completely devoid of empathy, it’s hypocritical. He feels he’s being attacked for the words he uses in a comedic form, even if he won’t admit that those words he uses actively attack those who are already under fire from other parts of society. It’s punching down in the worst way, and it’s the height of arrogance to claim otherwise, let alone play the victim the way he has.

But boy, people sure were laughing at what he said. The studio audience seemed to mostly love it. So have plenty of people who watched it after the fact. A good friend of mine, in fact, posted the monologue on Facebook, and people celebrated in the comments about how hilarious they thought it was. I started to post my own comment — “I especially enjoyed how he played antisemitism for laughs! — but deleted it because I thought it wouldn’t make any difference. People would wonder what I was talking about or tell me to lighten up, without taking into account that I’ve been told this over and over again my entire life. It’s a good thing, then, that I have this column.

Do people tell Blacks or Asians or LGBTQ people to “lighten up” when folks say hateful things to and about them? Not in my experience. Certainly not this century. But us Jews? Yeah, we should learn to take a joke. Because Jews obviously know nothing about humor.

Roger Waters
Roger Waters image via CNN

Roger Waters, whom I have mentioned in this space before, has taken to putting a statement on the big screen before his recent concerts telling fans that, if they had an issue with his politics, they could “f—- off to the bar now.” I saw videos of it, and people tended to greet it with humor, which made me wonder if, had he said racist things about Blacks or Asians, or Latinos, instead of bigoted things about Jews, people would react the same way. I tend to doubt it.

Waters clearly has some mental health issues — he dismisses claims of Chinese persecution of the Uyghurs, for instance, and in fact refuses to believe that anyone besides Israel commits any real human rights violations, which is pretty much the definition of both irrational denial and a prevailing anti-Jewish sentiment — as does Ye, who very obviously has a chemical imbalance, this doesn’t excuse the behavior of either one of them. Far from it, in fact, though Chappelle would surely disagree, as he also noted in the monologue. Those issues do make me pity him for his views, however, and it’s hard to despise someone or be really angry at them when you find them pathetic.

But Chappelle doesn’t have that excuse. On the contrary, he is fully cogent and considered in his commentary, and that makes his statements far worse.

Along those lines, there is the Kyrie Irving item. Irving, a point guard for the Brooklyn Nets and general crackpot who has expressed Flat Earth theories and is a staunch anti-vaxxer, posted on Twitter a link to a film, based on a book, both of which have deeply antisemitic themes and tropes. When he was called on it, he refused to apologize and was suspended by the team. Only after his bank account was affected did he finally apologize, not that I’m sure he actually learned from his actions rather than just saying he did so he’d be allowed to play again.

Nevermind that the NBA was bafflingly slow in responding to this mess, hoping it would just fade away without the league having to take further action, the fact that Irving is now somehow painted as a victim would be mind-boggling if I weren’t so used to this kind of nonsense.

Kanye West Kyrie Irving
Kanye West and Kyrie Irving images via NBC/NBA

Don’t tell that to Chappelle, though, because he somehow seems to think that Irving’s mess was caused by Kanye’s words and that Irving is not to blame for anything. He said that Irving being called on the carpet for what he did somehow crossed a line, adding, “I know the Jewish people have been through terrible things around the world, but you can’t blame that on Black Americans.”

I’m sorry, what? No one is blaming Kyrie Irving — or Black Americans, for that matter — for the terrible things that Jewish people have been through. No, we’re blaming him for thoughtlessly pushing material with serious antisemitic themes and tropes on his very public platform and then refusing to apologize for his actions and how he hurt people. The fact that Chappelle turned Kyrie into a victim in his monologue is spectacularly problematic, while also being emblematic of a larger issue: antisemitism is generally viewed as not that big a deal and a far lesser crime than racism or homophobia.

Chappelle’s follow-up joke about Irving, that a proper apology would be to post something about Schindler’s List, was just as tone-deaf as the rest of it, and yet, once again, people laughed. Because, sure, why not? It’s funny, right? Making jokes about Jews is hilarious. Weaponizing antisemitism with humor doesn’t have any victims, because they’re just jokes, and no one is ever hurt by jokes… except for the fact that antisemitism and hate crimes against Jews are on the rise, and there were more incidents of both in 2021 than in any year since those kinds of statistics have been kept.

But hey, we need to lighten up since, you know, they’re just jokes.

Well pardon me for not laughing, and excuse me for being so damn tired. There’s still no rest for the weary because there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no finish line ahead, and no end in sight. At the very least, I can thank Chappelle for reminding us all of this, even if some of us find that reminder funnier than others.

Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.



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