Dave Chappelle Declines His Former High School’s Offer to Rename Theater in His Honor

Many students had objected to the renaming after Chappelle's transphobic comedy special, The Closer

dave chappelle decline high school naming duke ellington school arts

After a controversial public process that included a heated confrontation with current students, Dave Chappelle has declined an offer from his alma mater Duke Ellington School of the Arts to rename the high school’s theater in his honor.

Chappelle attended a dedication ceremony on June 20th, The Washington Post reports, and watched as the performing arts center was christened the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression. He told the assembled audience that while he believed his critics lacked nuance, their words “sincerely” affected him, and he didn’t want to distract students from their work.

The 48-year-old comedian came under fire for his most recent Netflix special, The Closer, in which he makes several transphobic jokes and identifies as “Team TERF.”  When Duke Ellington School of the Arts — a free magnet school in Washington, DC with a majority Black student body — announced a plan to celebrate one of its most famous alumni, many students objected.

The conflict came to a head in a tense November meeting between high schoolers and Chappelle. The young people accused Chappelle of being a “bigot,” while the famous comedian pushed back, saying, “I’m better than every instrumentalist, artist, no matter what art you do in this school, right now, I’m better than all of you. I’m sure that will change. I’m sure you’ll be household names soon.” Following that conflict, the school moved the naming ceremony from November until this year.

Chappelle has pledged $100,000 to the school’s theater. “The Ellington family is my family,” he said on June 20th.

Despite the controversy, Chappelle has continued to make jokes about trans people. In May, he was attacked on stage by a person who said they’d been “triggered” by cracks about the LGBTQ+ community. In recent months, he also helped nix an affordable housing plan in Ohio and pledged the proceeds from a Buffalo, New York show to aiding victims of the May 14th mass shooting. Last week, comedian Jarrod Carmichael said that Chappelle’s insistence on making fun of trans people was an “odd hill to die on.”


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