The "America's Got Talent" judge says Chappelle getting physically attacked on stage is his "worst fear come true."
Is comedy under attack, or just comedians? Are we too thin-skinned and sensitive as a society now to handle humor? Or should comedians figure out how to adapt?
It’s an impossible question that’s only gotten more and more complicated in recent weeks as comedians have gone from getting canceled for off-color jokes and having people protest them to actually getting physically assaulted on stage while plying their trade.
Obviously, the highest-profile incident of this came when Will Smith walked up to Chris Rock on live television during the Oscars and smacked Chris Rock across the face for cracking a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair.
“I thought that that opened the flood gates,” Howie Mandel told E! News about that Oscars slap. And then, Dave Chappelle got tackled on stage by a man with a deadly weapon at a comedy festival Tuesday night, and that incident is Mandel’s “worst fear come true.”
“We’re already as comedians being attacked as far as being canceled for something that you don’t like, something that you find offensive, something that you think is too soon,” he explained.
That’s at least a verbal response to verbal jokes. This is taking things to the next level. “You saw what happened at the Academy Awards,” Mandel said. “And I thought that just triggers– violence triggers violence.”
“I think this is the beginning of the end for comedy,” he said. Suddenly, it has the potential to be a very dangerous profession.
“Watching what happened to Dave last night confirmed my fear,” Mandel told Extra on Wednesday. “I was watching it kind of live on Twitter and I turned to my wife and I said, ‘I don’t want to. I don’t want to go on stage. I’m just really afraid.'”
“The love of what we do is fading,” Mandel continued. “Joking now has no safety net.” The comedian, who has been open about his neuroses, anxiety and depression, said that for him, the fear has begun overtaking the love in the past six months.
Chappelle was tackled by a 23-year-old man on Tuesday night during the Netflix is a Joke comedy festival. The man was quickly tackled and beaten by security and other people involved. He was subsequently taken to the hospital for treatment, and ultimately arrested.
According to People, he was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon for a replica gun he was wielding that has a knife attached to it like a bayonet. As detailed by TMZ, the gun was inoperable, but the knife was still deadly. The man apparently was able to circumvent metal detectors to get the weapon inside.
“We care deeply about the safety of creators and we strongly defend the right of stand-up comedians to perform on stage without fear of violence,” Netflix said in a statement released Wednesday.
The streamer has stood by Chappelle’s right to express himself however he pleases, even after he came under fire for anti-trans comments in his “Closer” comedy special released last year. The comedian referenced this controversy after the tackle by calling his attacker a “trans man.” There is no indication this is true.
In a statement of his own after the attack, per Buzzfeed, a representative for Chappelle said that the comedian was “fully cooperating with the active police investigation into this incident.”
The statement mostly touted Chappelle’s achievements during the festival, insisting that he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment. As unfortunate and unsettling as the incident was, Chappelle went on with the show.”
The statement credits Jamie Foxx and Rock for helping to calm the crowd with humor. Ironically, Rock was on hand for this moment, having performed earlier in the evening. He came on stage after the attack and quipped, “Was that Will Smith?”
For the incident at the Oscars, Smith was ultimately banned for ten years from any Academy event, including Oscars ceremonies. He can still be nominated and win awards. The actor, who accepted the Best Actor Oscar on stage after slapping Rock with an awkward tear-filled apology, has accepted the Academy’s ruling.
As for thoughts on the sensitivity of the public to comedians and humor in general, Amy Schumer also came under fire for a pre-planned bit where she disrespected Kirsten Dunst, referring to her as a seat filler. The bit sparked outrage until Schumer explained that Dunst was fully in on it the whole time.
The problem is that a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it or explain that it’s a joke. Can comedians evolve to the changing tastes of the general public, or is the public just growing more and more anti-comedy, and it’s just a matter of time before it dies, as Mandel predicted.