Dave Chappelle's surprise special '8:46' is a somber tribute to George Floyd

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Without any notice, Dave Chappelle has released a new stand-up special on the Netflix YouTube channel. It’s about as of-the-moment as a live special can get. Performed six days ago in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he currently lives, Chappelle takes the stage in front of a masked, spaced-apart outdoor crowd. He’s titled the new set 8:46, for the length of time officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, and also the time of Chappelle’s birth, according to his birth certificate.

The specter of Floyd’s death weighs heavily on 8:46, with Chappelle commending the young protesters driving the movement, and acknowledging the fractious historical moment. “It’s hard to figure out what to say about George Floyd, so I’m not going to say it yet,” before pulling out a black notebook. Then he speaks with bracing urgency about the police’s killing of Floyd, emphasizing the length of time compared to a terrifying and far-shorter earthquake he survived in the ‘90s.

“When I watched that tape, I understood this man knew he was going to die. People watched it, people filmed it. And for some reason, that I still don’t understand, all these fucking police had their hands in their pockets,” Chappelle says. “Who are you talking to, what are you signifying that you can kneel on a man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and feel like you wouldn’t get the wrath of god?”

It’s a groundbreaking special in the obvious ways, and retains a more somber tone than Chappelle’s been known for. But he makes abundantly clear that trenchant commentary on racism and police violence aren’t new subjects for him to cover. “Has anyone ever listened to me do comedy? Have I not ever said anything about these things before?”

Chappelle then takes early aim at CNN’s Don Lemon for calling on celebrities to do more, and launches into a great deconstruction of empty celebrity gestures during crises like this. “So now all of a sudden, this n— expects me to step in front of the streets and talk over the work these people are doing as a celebrity,” he says. “Do you want to see a celebrity right now? Do we give a fuck what Ja Rule thinks? Does it matter about celebrity? No! This is the streets talking for themselves. They don’t need me right now,” Chappelle says.

Chappelle’s waded into more reactionary waters in recent specials, with transphobic comments and smearing Michael Jackson’s accusers from the film Leaving Neverland. As you can imagine, this caught the attention of people like Candace Owens and Michael Rapaport, who fashion themselves as brave truth-tellers.

Life comes at you fast, so Chappelle unleashes on Owens for trying to smear Floyd in the immediate aftermath of his death. “I’ve seen Candace Owens try to convince white America, ‘Don’t worry about it. He’s a criminal anyway.’ I don’t give a fuck what this n— did,” Chappelle says. “I don’t care if he personally kicked Candace Owens in her stanky pussy. I don’t know if it stanks, but I imagine it does. If I ever find out, I’ll let you know for sure. I’ll tell like Azealia Banks. I’ll tell.”

Chappelle’s comedy has never invited comfort or clean getaways, and 8:46 furthers that trend with some of his most incisive work in years.