Jon Stewart defended Dave Chappelle’s controversial Saturday Night Live monologue — where the comedian was accused of “normalizing and popularizing” antisemitism by the Anti-Defamation League — during an appearance on The Late Show.
Stewart has been friends with Chappelle for over two decades, dating back to at least when they appeared together in the 1998 comedy Half Baked. The two also performed shows together in the past few years.
“Everybody calls me like, ‘You see Dave on SNL?’ And I say yes, we’re very good friends. I always watch and send nice texts,” Stewart told host Stephen Colbert. “‘He normalized antisemitism with the monologue.’ And I’m like, I don’t know if you’ve been on comment sections on most news articles, but it’s pretty fucking normal. Antisemitism, it’s incredibly normal. But the one thing I will say is I don’t believe that censorship and penalties are the way to end antisemitism or to not gain understanding. I don’t believe in that. It’s the wrong way for us to approach it.”
Following the 15-minute monologue, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted of Chappelle’s routine, “We shouldn’t expect @DaveChappelle to serve as society’s moral compass, but disturbing to see @nbcsnl not just normalize but popularize #antisemitism. Why are Jewish sensitivities denied or diminished at almost every turn? Why does our trauma trigger applause?”
However, Stewart defended both what Chappelle said, as well as his right to say it, and stressed the importance of having these conversations in the open.
“Dave said something in the SNL monologue that I thought was constructive, which he says, ‘It shouldn’t be this hard to talk about things.’ I’m called antisemitic because I’m against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. I’m called other things from other people based on other opinions that I have, but those shut down debate,” Stewart said.
“Whether it be comedy or discussion or anything else, if we don’t have the wherewithal to meet each other with what’s reality, then how do we move forward? If we all just shut it down, then we retreat to our little corners of misinformation and it metastasizes. The whole point of all this is to not let it metastasize and to get it out in the air and talk about it.”
The conversation then turned to Kyrie Irving and Kanye West, two more high-profile people in hot water over antisemitism. “The Kanye thing, he can be erratic, and he says things, that didn’t surprise me. The Kyrie thing surprised me, you don’t expect to get it from someone named Irving,” Stewart quipped. “Really thought he was one of ours.”
“Kyrie Irving, they suspended him from playing basketball. If you want to punish this man, send him to the Knicks,” Stewart added. “Penalizing somebody for having a thought — I don’t think is the way to change their minds or gain understanding. This is a grown-ass man. The idea that you would say to him, ‘We’re going to put you in a timeout. You have to sit in the corner and stare at the wall until you no longer believe that the Jews control the international banking system’… To not deal with it in a straightforward manner, we will never gain any kind of understanding with each other.”
“Comedy is reductive. We play with tropes, because everyone has prejudices in their lives and in the way that they view things,” Stewart said, circling back to the monologue. “And comics rely on those prejudices as a shorthand for our material. Even the wokest of comics plays with tropes to a certain extent.”
Stewart added, “But the most interesting thing to come of this, in my mind, is something that Kanye said on his tour that he was doing — he got interviewed by five different people because the media model is arson and conflict — He said, ‘Hurt people hurt people,’ and if the point of all this is to heal people, the only way to heal the wound is to open it up and cleanse it, and that stings, and that hurts, but you have to expose it to air. But I’m afraid that the general tenor of conversation that this country has is ‘Cover it up, bury it, put it to the outskirts, and don’t deal with it.’ And what I would say is, look at it from a Black perspective. It’s a culture that feels that its wealth has been extracted by different groups — whites, Jews — whether it’s true or not, that’s the feeling in that community, and if you don’t understand where it’s coming from, then you can’t deal with it.”