“To the staff, artists, and our community, we hear you and apologize,” First Avenue said in a statement, posted on social media less than three hours before the show was scheduled to begin. “We know we have to hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we know we let you down. We are not just a black box with people inside, and we understand that First Ave is not just a room, but a meaning beyond our walls.”
The legendary venue, best known for its performances in Prince’s 1984 film Purple Rain, added that while it believes in voice diversity and artistic freedom, “we overlooked the impact” of Chappelle’s booking on the community. .
“We know that there are people who will not agree with this decision; you can submit a review,” wrote First Avenue.
A representative for Chappelle did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday.
Chappelle has come under fire for comments that LGBTQ advocacy groups believe may incite harm to transgender people. As part of “The Closer,” Chappelle joked about transgender genitals, said “gender is a fact,” and told his audience that he was on the “Team TERF,” an acronym for a trans-exclusive radical feminist movement. The comedian also defended J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, who has been criticized for remarks that were seen as transphobic. Chappelle has joked about the transgender community in the past, including in his 2019 special “Sticks and Stones”.
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GLAAD, a media watchdog group, has previously accused the Chappelle program of having “anti-LGBTQ content” that violates Netflix’s policy to reject programs that incite hate or violence. The National Coalition for Black Justice, a civil rights group, last year urged Netflix to withdraw the special immediately and “directly apologize to the transgender community.”
Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, has repeatedly defended the comedian, saying last year that “creative freedom” was one of the reasons the company didn’t make the special. Sarandos acknowledged that while some people may find Chappelle’s performance “mean”, “our members love it and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
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Dropouts from the special issue have been occurring throughout the past year. After the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in northwest Washington planned to dedicate student theater to the comedian, Chappelle unexpectedly announced last month that it would not bear his name. Chappelle withdrew the honor due to controversy over his Netflix special last year, with Ellington students also raising concerns.
Chappelle has been open about the backlash, telling Ellington’s audience last month that the criticism “genuinely” hurt him, but it lacked nuance and didn’t touch his work.
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Announcing the cancellation on Wednesday, First Avenue said Chappelle’s show had been moved to the University Theatre, where all tickets for the performance would be valid. Chappelle was already scheduled to perform at the University Theater on Thursday and Friday.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the University Theater to protest against Chappelle, many of them chanting “Transgender rights matter!” and holding signs that read “Transphobia is no joke.” According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, one Chappelle fan was also hit with an egg by a man who protesters believed was not part of the demonstration.
Chappelle reportedly taunted protesters during his Wednesday night speech, but urged those in attendance at the University Theater to continue supporting First Avenue, the Star Tribune reported.
“This is an important place for our culture,” he said.
Perry Stein and Amanda Andrade-Rhoads contributed to this report.
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