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Dave Chapelle addresses furor over ‘The Closer’ before referencing Lia Thomas at Netflix festival

Chappelle’s performance helped kick off Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival, an 11-day, 250-show comedy extravaganza across more than 30 venues in Los Angeles.
Dave Chappelle attends a UFC event in Las Vegas on July 10.
Dave Chappelle attends a UFC event in Las Vegas on July 10.Stacy Revere / Getty Images file

Dave Chappelle on Thursday addressed the furor over comments he made about the transgender community in his latest Netflix stand-up special, saying at a sold-out performance at the Hollywood Bowl that he made the special with good intentions.

He went on to make a series of remarks about transgender people, including college swimming star Lia Thomas, concentrating on what he described as her unfair advantage in athletics without mentioning her by name.

The audience of tens of thousands appeared to react enthusiastically to his set, laughing and cheering, though some could perceive the jokes as offensive.

Chappelle also weighed in on the war in Ukraine, Donald Trump’s future presidential ambitions and Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards.

Chappelle’s performance helped kick off Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival, an 11-day, 250-show comedy extravaganza across more than 30 venues in Los Angeles. The festival marks the streaming giant’s most ambitious foray into live entertainment since the company was founded 25 years ago.

The event was hosted by comedian Jeff Ross and featured appearances by Pete Davidson and singer-songwriter Erykah Badu.

The venue did not allow phones or recording devices to be used during the show, requiring ticket holders to place their electronics in lockable pouches. News reporters who attended were required to refrain from publishing detailed descriptions of Chappelle’s jokes because the show is still on tour.

Netflix’s comedy festival is slated to run from Thursday to May 8. Other comics on the sprawling lineup include Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Ali Wong. Gabriel Iglesias will make history as the first comedian to perform at Dodger Stadium.

Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special, “The Closer,” which debuted Oct. 5, drew accusations of transphobia and plunged the world’s mightiest streaming service into a public relations crisis that dragged on for weeks, culminating in an employee walkout.

The comedian’s jokes were roundly criticized at the time as offensive to the LGBTQ community. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said he was committed to Chappelle’s “creative freedom” and rejected calls to remove the special, although he acknowledged missteps when it came to “communication” with employees.

Chappelle is slated to return to the Hollywood Bowl on Friday, Saturday and Tuesday.

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