Chappelle: On second thought, don't name that school theatre after me

(Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

The Washington Post reports it as a surprise announcement. Comedian Dave Chappelle was in Washington, D.C. on Monday night for what was supposed to be a dedication ceremony at his high school alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The school’s theatre was going to be named for Chappelle, one of the school’s most famous alums and a very generous benefactor. Along the way, a controversy erupted over Chappelle’s Netflix special, The Closer, and charges of transphobia.

This kerfuffle has been going on since last November. Chappelle graduated from the school in 1991. As I wrote at the time, one of the school’s founders wanted to recognize Chappelle as “an important thought leader of our time.” Chappelle has been an active fundraiser for the school, a commencement speaker, and hosts masterclasses. He has raised millions of dollars for the school. He has said many times that he loves the school. Naming the school’s theatre after him was “the most significant honor of my life.” Then the woke high school students at the school ruined it. The cowardly school administration allowed it to happen.

The theatre will now be called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression. Dave Chappelle, who said all along that the controversy hurt him deeply, has brilliantly worked out a conclusion to this long-brewing saga. The children who were so offended by Chappelle’s comedy routine and his words about transgenders, will no longer have Dave Chappelle to kick around. The event to rename the theatre was originally canceled (I told you the administration is cowardly) and then the event was postponed to yesterday. Imagine allowing a group of woke children, ages 14 -18, to run the school and not the school’s board, administration, and teachers. Some students objected to Chappelle being honored and they tried to shut down Chappelle when he was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser. Some of the wokesters objected to being asked to help make an exhibit for the evening’s event.

Chappelle said Monday that he didn’t want his name to distract the students.

Chappelle told the audience Monday that while he thought the backlash against him lacked nuance and wasn’t about his work, he didn’t want a theater bearing his name to distract from students focusing on the meaning of their art.

He also noted that the criticism “sincerely” hurt him.

Chappelle said he decided Friday not to have his name on the school. “But the Ellington family is my family,” he said.

At the time of the controversy last year, Duke Ellington Principal Sandi Logan said she had had formal and informal meetings with students to discuss Chappelle’s comments, including a month of weekly meetings with an advisory committee of student leaders that included representatives from the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

“Moving forward with the event … without first addressing questions and concerns from members of the Ellington Community would be a missed opportunity for a teachable moment,” the school wrote in a statement.

Chappelle graciously pledged to donate $100,000 to the theatre. The students will have to find something else to protest. The school principal should be ashamed of herself and her ineptness. The teachable moment here, Ms. Logan, is that the students learned that if they whine and insult adults, they will get their way. Ms. Logan and the school are fostering spoiled brats instead of educating young people to be able to think for themselves and work with others. The real world outside the school won’t be so accommodating. Chappelle spoke to them like adults and they called him childish and transphobic.

Last November Chappelle spoke about the importance of the school in his life.

“I used to skip school. I would hide in there when I was skipping class. Who would have thought that that theater would one day be named after me?” Chappelle said in a speech to donors to raise money for Ellington before a screening of “The Closer” at the Angelika Pop-Up theater at Union Market. “But I understand it because sometimes when you love things, they love you back. And I loved that school.”

The adults who bow to the students do them no favors. In the real world, they will have to learn to get along with all kinds of people, especially in the world of the arts. Creative expression comes in many forms. The ironic part is that Dave Chappelle has built a career on offending everyone. It’s comedy. He speaks truthfully on current events and culture and not everyone agrees with him. That’s what makes it funny. The best comedy is that which is truthful. Those students are going to have to learn to loosen up and laugh at themselves. Chappelle can teach them a lot, especially since the school’s administration fails them so profoundly.