A 40-minute special titled What’s In A Name was released on the streaming platform on Thursday (July 7) without any prior announcement, featuring Chappelle’s speech at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C from June 20, 2022.
The speech was part of a ceremony to rename the school’s theatre after the comedian. The school’s decision, however, was criticised following the controversy around Chappelle’s Netflix special The Closer, where some material was perceived as transphobic.
In November last year, Chappelle held a Q&A with Duke Ellington students following the special’s release, where some criticised him for his dismissal of complaints from the LGBTQ+ community. One student reportedly called Chappelle “childish” and a “bigot” during the event.
This confrontation with students is tackled in What’s In A Name, where he claims those critical of his comments in The Closer disregarded his “artistic nuance”.
In the new special, Chappelle says: “All the kids were screaming and yelling, I remember, I said to the kids, I go, ‘Well, ok, well what do you guys think I did wrong?’ And a line formed. These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art.
“And this is my biggest gripe with this whole controversy with The Closer: that you cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance from his words. It would be like if you were reading a newspaper and they say, ‘Man shot in the face by a six-foot rabbit expected to survive,’ you’d be like, ‘Oh my god,’ and they never tell you it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon.”
He added: “When I heard those talking points coming out of these children’s faces, that really, sincerely, hurt me. Because I know those kids didn’t come up with those words. I’ve heard those words before. The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it.
“And it has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right, my freedom, of artistic expression. That is valuable to me. That is not severed from me. It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavours in our noble, noble professions.
“And these kids didn’t understand that they were instruments of oppression. I didn’t get mad at them. They’re kids. They’re freshmen. They’re not ready yet. They don’t know. But it made me mad, and I am this petty.”
At the end of the speech, Chappelle announced he had decided against having his name on the theatre, to not distract students. He then unveiled the new name for the space, titled the Theatre for Artistic Freedom and Expression.