Comedian Dave Chappelle, despite the ongoing controversy around his material and its targets, won his fifth Grammy for Best Comedy Album during the pre-telecast portion of the awards on Sunday. The special that took the prize home was “What’s in a Name,” an acceptance speech he gave at Washington D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts after the school decided to name its newly renovated theater the “Dave Chappelle Theatre.”
In the speech, recorded in June 2022, he fired back at critics of his 2021 Netflix special “The Closer” while detailing his time studying theater arts at the institution and his career in comedy. On Netflix, “What’s in a Name” opens with a quote from Duke Ellington: “Art is dangerous. It is one of the attractions: when it ceases to be dangerous you don’t want it.” His last Grammy was for “The Closer,” showing the continued support he’s received from the Recording Academy.
The speech was initially released as a special on Netflix in 2022 before receiving a vinyl album pressing in 2023. At the end of the “What’s in a Name,” he said that he would defer having the theater take his name. He quipped that it would instead be named the Jerrod Carmichael Theatre in honor of the gay comic, before instead revealing a sign reading, “Theatre for Artistic Freedom & Expression.” Chappelle added that, at some point, the school could feel free to add his name on top of that.
Chappelle pointed out in “What’s in a Name” that “The Closer” was the most-watched special in the world, adding, “And I am still of the mind, and I say this with all humility, it is a masterpiece. And I challenge all my peers to make its equal. They cannot. I am sure. It will be decades before you ever see someone in my genre as proficient as maybe. I am maybe a once-in-a-lifetime talent. I am telling you the truth.”
He referenced a news story about “a man that was dressed in women’s clothing” threw a pie at the Mona Lisa in an attempt to deface it. Chappelle compared that moment to his special.
Earlier in the speech, Chappelle pointed out the pride flags at the school and went on to discuss meeting an out gay person for the first time when he attended the school. “It was never strange to us. Their sexuality or their gender identity was the least remarkable thing about a person that could dance as well as Roger Bellamy,” Chappelle said.
He noted that, when he came back previously to the school after the release of “The Closer, “the kids were mad at me. I had to tell you, that was quite the day. All the kids were screaming and yelling. I remember, I said to the kids, I go, ‘Well, OK, what do you guys think I did wrong?’ And a line formed.”
He noted that the kids talked about gender, “but they didn’t say anything about art. And this is my biggest gripe with the whole controversy with ‘The Closer’: that you cannot report on an artist’s work, and remove artistic nuance from his words.”
Chappelle said that day hurt him, arguing that he didn’t believe the kids had come up with the words they were saying and were instead delivering talking points.
“The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it,” Chappelle added.
“I said it to the kids that day: if you have a better idea, then express it. And you can beat me. It’s that easy,” Chappelle said.
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