Dave Chappelle has decided not to place his name on the theatre he helped build for his old high school.
The building at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C. was set to be officially named on Monday (June 20), with Chappelle being honoured as one of their most famous graduates.
However, the comedian has been at the centre of controversy after some of the material in his latest Netflix special The Closer was perceived as transphobic.
In a recent visit to the school, Chappelle was confronted by some of the students about the jokes. One 16-year-old pupil described the comedian as a “bigot” and “childish”. According to Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin and TMZ, Chappelle subsequently refused the naming honour during the ceremony. Instead, he decided it shall be named the Theatre for Artistic Freedom and Expression.
Addressing the audience, Chappelle spoke of the students’ backlash to his special, comparing it to one individual’s recent attempt to deface the Mona Lisa.
The comedian said: “I saw in the newspaper that a man who was dressed in women’s clothing threw a pie at the Mona Lisa and tried to deface it. And it made me laugh and I thought, ‘It’s like The Closer.’”
“You cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance,” he added. “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.”
Back in November last year, the high school announced it would still name itself after Chappelle, despite the backlash from a number of students.
The school said in a statement at the time: “As an art institution, we educate our students on the importance of media literacy and art as a free and open form of expression to both reflect and challenge society.
“Although it appears that the clear majority of students at Ellington favour naming the theatre for Dave Chappelle, we are seizing this moment to demonstrate the importance of carefully listening to every voice within our diverse and inclusive community.”