The Emmys Have a Dave Chappelle Problem

Earlier this year, Louis C.K. proved his own “cancellation” was a myth when his big comeback special Sincerely Louis C.K. not only landed a nomination but went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.

Don’t be surprised if Dave Chappelle pulls off a similar trick at the Emmys.

Now, to be fair, hateful speech is not the same as C.K.’s abusive behavior, but it now feels inevitable that Chappelle’s controversial Netflix special The Closer will be rewarded by the Television Academy when nominations are announced this Tuesday.

In addition to Chappelle’s Netflix special, the nominations for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) are expected to include some non-comedy entries as well, including Adele’s One Night Only concert and a similarly problematic Harry Potter 20th anniversary reunion on HBO Max. But it is comedy—and Chappelle, specifically—that have dominated the category in recent years. The comedian’s previous Netflix specials Equanimity, in which he defended Louis C.K., and Stick and Stones, in which he mocked Michael Jackson’s accusers, won the award in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

If The Closer is included among the nominees, it will be despite immense backlash against the transphobic jokes at its center—and the comedian’s continued obsession with that topic. Even after he was attacked on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, Chappelle quickly joked that the assailant must have been a “trans man.” More recently, he assailed students who criticized him as “instruments of oppression.”

But it will also come at a time when Chappelle—much more so than Louis C.K.—has maintained the support of the comedy community, speaking on behalf of his friend Jon Stewart at the recent Mark Twain Prize ceremony—an honor he received himself in 2019—and making a surprise appearance on one of John Mulaney’s summer tour stops that drew criticism from fans who felt bombarded by his anti-LGBTQ+ jokes.

So ahead of the nomination announcement this week, here are five comedy specials that deserve a spot over The Closer.

Jerrod Carmichael — Rothaniel

Of all the specials on this list, Carmichael’s game-changing hour is (hopefully) the most likely to make it into the final crop of nominees. Directed by his frequent collaborator—and the man who should have won last year’s award in this category—Bo Burnham, Rothaniel is a sneakily hilarious and moving set that promises to uncover multiple secrets about Carmichael and delivers. Coming out as a gay man is among the least surprising things the comedian reveals about himself over the course of the laid-back hour, which evolves into a sort of public therapy session with the hyper-engaged audience.

Moses Storm — Trash White

When comedian Moses Storm dropped by The Last Laugh podcast back in January, I called his HBO Max special Trash White the first great stand-up special of 2022. Not only is it visually dazzling with a set made out of literal white trash, but Storm has a hell of a story to tell about growing up in a doomsday cult and reckoning with how that unconventional childhood has impacted his ability to exist as an adult in the world. And on top of that, it includes…

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