Proving many surprises are often bad surprises, John Mulaney sicced proud transphobe Dave Chappelle on his fans as a guest performer at a show in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday night. And since Chappelle is apparently as predictable and uncreative as he is bigoted, he reportedly opened with a string of anti-trans and anti-gay jokes right off the bat.
Phones and recording devices were prohibited at the event—almost as if Mulaney or whoever coordinated Chappelle’s surprise appearance knew how much justified backlash his anti-LGBTQ and particularly anti-trans bullying would draw. Despite this, numerous audience members took to Twitter or talked to media outlets about how the night unfolded.
“I probably wouldn’t have gone, or I would’ve at least skipped the openers, if I knew Chappelle would be there,” one audience member told Buzzfeed News, before adding: “It hurts to know that Chappelle’s transphobia wasn’t enough of a deterrent to keep him off the show.”
One trans audience member who attended the show tweeted that because of Chappelle, they were forced to “hear ~12,000 people laugh at a transphobic joke,” while not even knowing in advance that Chappelle “would make a surprise appearance.” Another trans audience member tweeted that they were “disappointed in John Mulaney” after he “gave Dave Chappelle the platform to make some transphobic jokes” and called the crowd laughing at trans people “disheartening.”
That queer and trans audience members were subjected to not just Chappelle’s awful jokes, but also had to witness the unsettling support he received from both the audience and Mulaney, appears to be a common thread in audience members’ recollections of the evening.
Another audience member recalled how “Dave Chappelle ambushed us at the John Mulaney show, told a bunch of transphobic jokes, a massive stadium of people laughed, and then John Mulaney hugged him at the end.”
Chappelle spewing his usual brand of dehumanizing, anti-LGBTQ “comedy” isn’t at all surprising—this is a man who has joked about once assaulting a lesbian woman, proudly identifies as “team TERF,” and devoted the bulk of his latest Netflix special to his bizarre fixation on trans people’s genitals. All at a time of ever-increasing political attacks on trans people no less. There’s no way Mulaney didn’t foresee Chappelle’s inevitable jokes at queer and trans people’s expense at his show. And his hug with Chappelle at the end of his set made his approval pretty explicit. Mulaney’s silence speaks volumes, too. He has yet to respond to any of the backlash or even offer the most half-hearted of apologies.
It sure seems like Mulaney, who has a noted history of popularity with the LGBTQ community, leveraged that popularity, accepted money from queer and trans fans in Columbus, and essentially made them pay to be unknowingly ambushed and bullied. Chappelle, who reportedly made $24.1 million from Netflix for his most recent special alone, also inevitably got a cut of the earnings from the Columbus show, meaning Mulaney made his fans unwittingly pay Chappelle to mock them.
The entire situation is about as fucked up as it was avoidable. If Mulaney even vaguely cares about the harm he’s inflicted on his trans and LGBTQ fans, the very least he could do is refund their tickets to his Friday show. No matter what he says or does going forward, there are plenty of queer and trans comics we could all be supporting instead of yet another disappointing white man.