First Avenue Cancels Dave Chappelle’s Show Following Backlash

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Comedian Dave Chappelle speaks at the dedication of the student theater at his alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. on June 20, 2022. The auditorium was set to be renamed for Chappelle but he declined the honor following backlash over his 2021 Netflix special. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Downtown Minneapolis venue First Avenue canceled Dave Chappelle’s Wednesday performance hours before it was supposed to take place following backlash over the comedian’s material many consider transphobic.

The show was moved to Live Nation’s Varsity Theater, located just a few miles away from First Avenue.

“To staff, artists, and our community, we hear you and we are sorry,” a statement shared to First Avenue’s official Instagram said. “We know we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we know we let you down. We are not just a black box with people in it, and we understand that First Ave is not just a room, but meaningful beyond our walls.”

The statement went on to proclaim the independent venue’s commitment to continuing to make First Avenue a safe space.

“We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have. We know there are some people who will not agree with this decision; you are welcome to send feedback.”

Chappelle caught flack for views expressed in “The Closer,” his 2021 Netflix special, in which the comedian said: “Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact.” Chappelle also described transgender people as “confusing” in his comedy special “Sticks and Stones.”

Although controversy over the 2021 special resulted in an Oct. 20, 2021, employee rally and walkout from the company’s Hollywood office, co-CEO and content chief Ted Sarandos defended Chappelle and Ricky Gervais’ specials during the “Future of Entertainment” panel at the Cannes Lions advertising conference in June, according to IndieWire. And earlier this month Netflix released “Dave Chappelle: What’s in a Name?,” featuring a speech he gave at his alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. In the most recent special Chappelle defended himself, saying his critics weren’t looking at the “artistic nuance” of “The Closer,” according to Vanity Fair.

The Duke Ellington School of the Arts was going to name a student theater after Chappelle but the comedian declined the honor during a dedication of the venue June 20, saying criticism from students about his Netflix special “sincerely” hurt him, according to the Washington Post. The space will instead be called the Theatre for Artistic Freedom & Expression.

“The Closer” was nominated for two Emmys in July: variety special and directing for a vareity special. Variety points out the special also received nominations in January from the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Producers Guild of America (PGA).

Earlier this year, a man walked up to the stage during Chappelle’s performance at the Hollywood Bowl with a replica handgun containing a knife blade. Chappelle was unharmed during the incident, and the man was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon.

Minneapolis’ Varsity Theater has more shows lined up with Chappelle, with two performances Thursday and two gigs Friday.

Box office reports submitted to Pollstar for Chappelle include an April 20, 2022, show at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., that sold 17,802 tickets and grossed $1,971,370.