- - Sunday, January 7, 2018

Dave Chappelle persisted.

The comedy giant got hammered last year for sharing some transgender jokes on a pair of Netflix stand-up specials. Instead of backing down or apologizing, Mr. Chappelle uncorked a few more in his latest Netflix special, “Equanimity.”

Did he inadvertently strike a blow against those who insist comedians avoid certain subjects? Or will politically correct scolds continue to hound comics well into 2018 … and beyond?

Mr. Chappelle did acknowledge in the new special that some viewers were hurt by his barbs. He also said all the right things about not wishing violence on any member of the transgender community. He still didn’t apologize or shy away from similar material.

Comedian Jim Florentine applauds his fellow stand-up for not buckling to a select group of naysayers.

“It’s a good thing that he didn’t apologize,” said Mr. Florentine, known partly for his politically incorrect bits on Comedy Central’s “Crank Yankers.” “We’ve got a president who doesn’t apologize, and he’s gone pretty far.”

That part of President Trump’s demeanor appealed to voters, and Mr. Florentine said that extends to the comedy realm.

“Most people don’t want an apology. Who are you apologizing to?” he asks.

Mr. Florentine said stand-up crowds are more savvy and tougher than the media would like us to think.

“I don’t see in the comedy clubs anyone walking out for being offended. The people coming out to the comedy clubs do research on the acts,” he said, adding that audiences know to avoid incendiary performers who might upset them.

Actor/comedian Joe DeRosa said it matters to the comedy community when someone of Mr. Chappelle’s standing sticks his chest out as he did.

“I know with certain subject matters, it seems a little more raw or coarse,” Mr. DeRosa said. “That’s got to be the way it is. Otherwise, we have to start banning every movie or song that deals with any sort of uncomfortable subject.”

Mr. DeRosa worries that the impulse to correct comedians has bipartisan appeal. Some conservatives bristle at comics mocking gun owners, he notes. Liberals, in turn, use left-leaning media outlets to savage comics for telling the “wrong” jokes.

The Guardian recently published a piece titled, “Dave Chappelle’s ‘reckless’ #MeToo and trans jokes have real after-effects.”

“I think it’s absurd and childish that any human being holds a comedian to the same standards as politicians or anyone who leads people,” Mr. DeRosa said.

That didn’t stop edgy comic Daniel Tosh from apologizing via Twitter for a rape joke told in 2012. More recently, James Corden apologized for telling Harvey Weinstein jokes at a high-profile gala following considerable blowback.

Comedian Rich Vos said the attacks on his fellow comics reflect the times.

“People nowadays are outraged if they’re not outraged. They have to be outraged by something,” Mr. Vos said.

That means whatever Mr. Chappelle does or doesn’t do on stage may not have a lasting impact.

“Audiences are still going to be uptight and outraged at something,” Mr. Vos said.

He ardently supports equal rights for all, but that shouldn’t mean some views should be throttled.

“Once we’re not able to express our opinions, then we’ve all lost,” he said, adding that it’s something select critics don’t seem to realize. “They’re hurting themselves by doing this. Expression is what we have that shouldn’t be taken away.”

Political satirist Tim Slagle said being politically correct is one reason comedians like Mr. Chappelle thrive.

“All the biggest names are politically incorrect is some aspect or another. It’s why comedy is really big today,” Mr. Slagle said, noting that even relatively tame ventriloquist Jeff Dunham pokes fun at certain cultures and ethnicities.

That doesn’t mean anything goes or that comedians don’t hustle to make every joke matter.

Comedians workshop their material, performing it at numerous clubs to get it just right, Mr. Slagle said. If one of those battle-tested jokes draws outrage, it’s hard for a comic to backtrack.

“You can’t say, ‘Oops, I shouldn’t say that’ at this point.’ It’s a commitment to honesty,” he said.

Mr. Slagle doesn’t see the effort to police comic thought slowing down this year all the same.

Mr. Florentine said — apology or no apology — Mr. Chappelle won’t lose any fans for his raw material. That’s partly due to the comedian’s peerless talent.

“I think you have to present [challenging jokes] in the right way, the right angle,” Mr. Florentine said. “What a great comic does is figure out that fine line.

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