Dave Chappelle’s hosting SNL. Tell me again about cancel culture ending careers

OPINION: There are apparently no consequences for transphobia!!

Well-documented transphobic comedian Dave Chappelle’s back, baby. 

Or… did he ever really leave? The controversial comedian is set to host Saturday Night Live for this weekend’s post-U.S. midterm election episode, as he did following the U.S. elections in 2016 and 2020. But this appearance comes just a year after Chappelle was supposedly “canceled” for his blatantly transphobic comments in a Netflix special last year.  

Let’s really stress the supposedly there. 

A recap: last fall, Chappelle dropped his special The Closer on Netflix, where he claimed to be “done” with queer and trans jokes, but ended up filling the special’s run-time with a slew of vile transphobic jokes and declaring himself to be “team TERF.” This came in addition to several past specials in which Chappelle dished out some casual transphobia, but The Closer really saw the award-winning comedian double-down on some “yikes” stances around queer oppression, trans women’s bodies and a slew of other topics.

The special kicked off a wave of back-and-forths between fans and Netflix, with employees at the streaming service walking out in protest of its continued defence of the comedian and its commitment to hosting his specials. Several workers involved in organizing the walkouts were fired and suspended, including Terra Field—who Tweeted her reaction to the news of Chappelle’s hosting this week.


Meanwhile, Chappelle—who’s been praised for his “edgy” comedy throughout his career—seemed to relish his so-called “cancellation.” Not long after the special dropped, the comedian performed at a sold out event and received a standing ovation, saying, “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it.” His Netflix deal remains intact, he headlined the Netflix Is A Joke festival in the spring and—aside from a few cancellations of local shows—really didn’t seem to face any career repercussions for, you know, spreading grossly wrong information about trans womens’ bodies and defending the queen TERF herself, JK Rowling. 


While I hesitate to lean to far into the “cancel culture” conversation of it all (frankly, the new Cate Blanchett film Tár has been the only interesting discussion of the term I’ve seen lately), it is wild that Chappelle has gone from supposed cancel culture pariah to headlining one of the biggest gigs in pop culture. It’s almost like the cancel culture that right-wing pundits are always decrying isn’t real and shitty dudes can keep getting away with doing shitty dude things!

SNL is, of course, its own beast. Despite supposed representation victories with the casting of people like Bowen Yang or this season’s first openly non-binary cast member Molly Kearney, the show is hardly known for having a progressive bent.

Chappelle is far from the first controversial host for the program, and once again I can’t help but think of the queer and trans staff and cast members at SNL, whose boss has essentially said “Well, he’s not transphobic enough for us not to invite him.” The show’s gone through this sort of inner turmoil before with previously controversial hosts like new Twitter overlord/punching bag Elon Musk or former President Donald Trump. 

Chappelle’s hosting gig comes on the heels of a decisively bitter midterm election which has had the health, safety and human rights of trans kids at the forefront of debates. Whatever the election result, odds are Chappelle’s going to have something to say about it. 

Like Louis CK and a host of other shitty dude comedians who supposedly got “cancelled,” Chappelle’s helming of SNL just shows us that calling someone out for their transphobia isn’t going to ruin their career. In fact, the enthusiasm with which the announcement has been met by Chappelle’s newly gained right-wing fans over the past year shows that if anything, his platform has grown. 

Meanwhile queer and trans folks are going to keep fighting for our basic rights, and shitty dudes like Chappelle get to go make jokes about it on one of TV’s biggest stages. Cis and straight comedians like Chappelle are going to start begging for this kind of cancellation.

Senior editor Mel Woods is an English-speaking Vancouver-based writer and audio producer and a former associate editor with HuffPost Canada. A proud prairie queer and ranch dressing expert, their work has also appeared in Vice, Slate, the Tyee, the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus.

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