My third reaction to Mr. Chappelle’s show was how little black comedy seems to have evolved in recent decades. Racial themes still dominate. Harping on the otherworldliness of the black experience in America still wins laughs even as our neighborhoods and schools and workplaces become more diverse and integrated. Before Bill Cosby ’s monstrous offstage behavior caught up with him, his career offered evidence of a huge appetite for nonracial humor from a black comedian. But Mr. Cosby continues to be the exception. Two decades into the 21st century, much of black stand-up seems stuck in the 1980s. The jokes have been updated, but the nature of the humor hasn’t really changed.
Mr. Chappelle and fellow black comedian Chris Rock are still the best at what they do, but Mr. Rock’s work strikes me as more subversive. While others obsess over what white people are doing, many of Mr. Rock’s most memorable routines zero in on black attitudes toward education, parenting and law enforcement. His sensibilities can be as shocking as his language, especially in a political environment where personal responsibility is passé and calling attention to counterproductive behavior is a no-no. Drug companies are to blame for the opioid crisis. The gun lobby is to blame for mass shootings. Racism is to blame for racial disparities.