Dave Chappelle announced that the student theater at his old high school will not bear his name and instead be called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression. The school initially planned to pay tribute to him by renaming a building in his honor. He made the change following student backlash to his Netflix special, The Closer.
The comedian announced the switch during the naming ceremony on Monday night (Jun. 21). According to the Washington Post, Dave Chappelle expressed that the criticism “sincerely” hurt him. The school had delayed naming the building, which was initially postponed in November after The Closer was criticized as transphobic. Ellington students heckled the comedian on campus during the controversy.
However, Dave Chappelle explained to the audience that the criticism lacked nuance.
“These kids didn’t understand that they were instruments of oppression,” Dave Chappelle told the audience, according to Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin. He added, “You cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance.”
He likened it to reporting a rabbit shooting a man but not disclosing that the events described were from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Chappelle also noted the popularity of the Netflix special, the platform’s most-watched ever.
Dave Chapelle continued, “When you say I can’t say something, the more urgent is it for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you are saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my freedom of artistic expression.”
Ultimately the comic decided he didn’t want his name to take any focus away from the students,
“The idea that my name will be turned into an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is untenable to me.”