Dave Chappelle got one thing right in his already infamous SNL monologue

You can’t say ‘The Jews,’ Chappelle said. Euphemisms are still fair game.

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Dave Chappelle tried to walk a difficult line on “Saturday Night Live” this week. NBC/Will Heath/NBC

By PJ Grisar, The Forward

In Saturday’s “SNL” monologue, Dave Chappelle offered a canny pro-tip to Kanye West. 

Trotting out a variation on George Carlin’s “Seven Words,” the comedian said there are “two words in the English language that you should never say together in sequence. And those words are ‘the’ and ‘Jews.’”

He’s absolutely right. Kanye West’s infamous tweet (in which he actually announced his intention to go death con 3 on “JEWISH PEOPLE ”) led to a near instant lock of his Twitter account. A scandal materialized, culminating with the rapper and businessman losing over $1 billion when Adidas severed ties with him.

“They dropped him immediately,” Chappelle said (erroneously — they took a good long while). West’s downfall all comes, Chappelle reasoned, from breaking a showbiz taboo in calling attention to the large number of Jews in entertainment. But, in fact, you can feel free to say a lot about Jews — as long as you don’t say the words “the Jews.”

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Had West (who legally changed his name to Ye) been more oblique, had he threatened to go death con 3 on “globalists” or “elites” or “George Soros” or maybe even “the synagogue of Satan,” he may not have triggered the less than-sensitive Twitter moderation tripwire (back when there was still a Twitter team to monitor such things). 

As Elad Nehorai wrote, West’s appearance on Tucker Carlson was edited to remove his bizarre antisemitic tangents, while the coded antisemitism of the great replacement theory is aired almost nightly on the Fox News anchor’s show.

So, when Chappelle says he thinks West is not “crazy” for thinking Jews run Hollywood, but “crazy” to say it “out loud in this climate,” what I hear is that West wasn’t being subtle enough. You can, indeed, get away with bigotry toward Jews and reach millions. I know, because Chappelle got away with it himself.

In Chappelle’s 2021 Netflix special, “The Closer,” the comedian pitched a movie idea about an ancient civilization that leaves Earth, goes to another planet where “things go terrible for them,” then returns to Earth to claim it for themselves. “I call it ‘Space Jews,’” Chappelle said, ostensibly commenting on Israel.

So, not “the Jews,” but “Space Jews.”

The “Space Jews” returned later in the special, with Chappelle likening them to a formerly enslaved Black man, who later became a cruel enslaver. The joke was slammed, but only quietly, as dealing in Holocaust inversion; the jokes made at the expense of transgender people (a favorite target of Chappelle’s) received more attention, culminating in a walkout by Netflix employees.

If Jews are really controlling Hollywood, we’re doing a poor job if we can only police antisemitism in its most direct form. 

But in the SNL monologue, Chappelle, who began by reading a denouncement of antisemitism, also skewered the ludicrous idea of Jewish control — in between voicing his fears of cancellation. 

“I’ve been to Hollywood, and this is just what I saw: It’s a lot of Jews, like a lot,” Chappelle said. “But that doesn’t mean anything, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, but that doesn’t mean they run the place.” 

As some of Chappelle’s defenders have noted, the most astute moments of the monologue — which also touched on Herschel Walker and the midterm elections — pointed to a double standard surrounding who is allowed to say what. And it’s a point well made. But in making it, Chappelle also stumbled.

“If they’re Black, then it’s a gang, if they’re Italians a mob, but if they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it,” Chappelle said. The comic seems to know that it’s a mistake to generalize about any community, to reduce individual people to representatives of their group. And yet, when it came to Kyrie Irving, who, after tweeting a link to a documentary that denies the Holocaust was provided with a list of conditions before he’s allowed back on the court, Chappelle had this to say.

“The list of demands to get back in their good graces got longer and longer and this is where I draw the line,” Chappelle said. “I know the Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world, but… you can’t blame that on Black Americans.”

No one serious is blaming Black Americans for centuries of Jewish suffering, merely calling for accountability from men who happen to be Black and American. To think otherwise is to fall into the sort of generalizations that Chappelle appears to rail against, while occasionally indulging in. 

There is a bigger discussion to be had about why Tucker Carlson gets a pass on his buzzworded antisemitism while West and Irving face consequences. Race plays a role, though I also think Chappelle was onto something. Saying those two words, “the Jews,” dodges all pretense of deniability in a way that dogwhistles don’t. 

That shouldn’t be the case. All bigotry should be subject to accountability, even if it’s obscured by innuendo  — or a punchline.