Dave Chappelle’s 8:46, released on Netflix’s YouTube channel, is not so much a comedy special as it is a sermon. It’s his testimony. It’s his indictment of the many forms of violence that Black people face every day in America.
Filmed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, on June 6, just one week after the killing of George Floyd, 8:46 also gives us a glimpse into the future of entertainment. Attendees at the outdoor set wear branded ‘C’ masks, ushers conduct temperature checks, and seats are spaced six feet apart. It looks more like a revival than a comedy club.
While I have found myself disappointed with past Chappelle Netflix specials due to his stances on trans people and survivors of sexual assault, this special is so searing and focused that there is no time for anything else except to express the urgency of the moment we are all living through. Clad in all black, wearing a gold ‘C’ chain and carrying a black Moleskine notebook, Chappelle has never looked as weary or as righteously angry—even though speaking out against racism and police brutality is nothing new for him.
He tells deeply personal stories that also connect to a larger history of violence: how he was sure he was going to die when he experienced an earthquake in Los Angeles, how that terror lasted 35 seconds, but felt like an eternity. He then asks the crowd to imagine that kind of terror lasting for almost nine minutes for George Floyd. He also explains why he doesn’t believe celebrities should be speaking up at the moment: “I don’t need to talk over the work that protesters are doing.”
Chappelle also takes brief aim at conservative commentators Laura Ingraham and Candace Owens, saving some especially venomous barbs for them. But ultimately, 8:46 is not about them, although I am sure those parts of the special will grab headlines.
8:46 is not even really about jokes. 8:46 is about history. It’s about resistance. It’s about the fundamental need to speak the truth, even when, especially when, it is uncomfortable and painful.
“These streets will speak for themselves whether I’m alive or dead,” Chappelle says in the closing moments of his special. And he ends it with one of the most revolutionary things a person can say: “I trust y’all.”