Dave Chappelle has won his fifth Grammy for best comedy album and second in a row for What’s in a Name, a 40-minute Netflix special taken from a speech at his former high school, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where he defended his controversial 2021 special The Closer, which won the comedy album prize at the 2023 Grammys, and expressed support for freedom of expression.
With his win at the 2024 Grammys, Chappelle beat fellow nominees Wanda Sykes (I’m an Entertainer), Sarah Silverman (Someone You Love), this year’s Grammys host Trevor Noah (I Wish You Would) and Chris Rock, whose Selective Outrage live Netflix special featured Rock speaking out publicly about being slapped onstage by Will Smith at the 2022 Oscars. Chappelle wasn’t in attendance to accept the award, which was handed out during the premiere ceremony, where the majority of this year’s Grammys are given out, so presenter Rufus Wainwright accepted it on his behalf.
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Chappelle’s What’s in a Name was quietly released on Netflix in July 2022 and was taken from a speech he gave at the school the month prior, which was intended to be a ceremony celebrating the renaming of the school’s theater for Chappelle. But instead, Chappelle said he wanted to “defer” the renaming to highlight “the nuance of art” and “my right, my freedom of artistic expression” and said he wanted the new name to be the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.
“Rather than give this theater my name, I would like to give these students my message,” Chappelle said in his speech.
During the special, Chappelle defends The Closer, which sparked backlash for material focused on the transgender community, including Chappelle saying he’s on “team TERF”or “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” and aligning himself with J.K. Rowling, who has made a number of statements viewed as anti-trans. The special prompted a virtual walkout and public rally at Netflix’s offices as the streamer has continued to support Chappelle and the special.
The Closer also sparked criticism from current Duke Ellington students, when Chappelle initially returned to his alma mater in November 2021, when the renaming ceremony was set to take place. During that event, a number of students criticized The Closer, remarks Chappelle said “sincerely hurt me.”
“The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it,” Chappelle says in part during the Duke Ellington speech captured in What’s In a Name. “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.”
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