Laugh Factory founder Jamie Masada calls on comedians to support Dave Chappelle

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FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2006, file photo, Jamie Masada, owner of the venerable Hollywood nightclub The Laugh Factory, speaks at the club in West Hollywood, Calif. It was this summer and Israeli-Palestinian tensions were at the highest they'd been in some time when Masada hit on a formula for world peace: Forget about guns and bombs, and just tell jokes to each other. He knew it'd be a challenge to bring together people from across the world who dislike each other, and hope they will laugh at each other. And yet, that's what he's trying to do with what he calls the first Funniest Person in the World competition. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
The Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada is defending Dave Chappelle and calling on the comedy community to support him too. (Associated Press)

The founder of West Hollywood's venerable comedy club the Laugh Factory is calling on comedians to rally behind Dave Chappelle as the controversial comic weathers the fallout from his Netflix stand-up special.

Disappointed with the "divisions penetrating through the comedy business," club founder Jamie Masada implored comedians, their managers and comedy club owners across the country to build support for Chappelle "from his own kin" and those who "truly understand him."

"What we are witnessing is an attack on the independence of comedy and the freedoms that make comedy the most organic, noncommercial form of entertainment," Masada wrote in an open letter Tuesday, as the backlash from Chappelle's LGBTQ+ and transphobic remarks in "The Closer" continued into another week.

"If we don't stand up for one another it won't just be one of us that loses this freedom — it will be all of us — and once this freedom is gone, the doors of comedic expression will be sealed shut," he said. "There's no going back. Dave deserves the same freedoms that we all enjoy — the ones that make comedy what it is and provoke perspective shifts time and time again."

Masada promised that he and the entire Laugh Factory team would always support comics, including Chappelle. However, it was at Masada's club in 2006 that "Seinfeld" alum Michael Richards unleashed his infamous racist rant; Masada banned the actor from the club and enabled Richards' cancelation. Masada holds himself partially accountable for the backlash against offensive remarks.

"We will stand by our comedians through thick and thin, through rain and shine, through scrutiny and praise. Dave has brought joy to millions of fans across the world and inspired an entire generation of comedians," Masada said. "I know Dave’s character, and I know his heart. He is a gentle soul, and one that only wishes to make the world look at the mundane differently, the normal abnormally and the black and white in color. There is not a hateful thread in Dave’s DNA."

Masada, a former comedian who's known Chappelle since he was "a budding 17-year-old comedian" said that the embattled comic has "shown nothing but kindness, compassion and empathy for his fellow human, regardless of gender, race, status or creed."

His letter comes on the heels of transgender comedian Flame Monroe's public show of support for Chappelle in a YouTube video, which touches on "the unique yet community-driven free speech of comedy and the conversations this freedom initiates," Masada said.

Masada said we're "witnessing an attack on the independence of comedy and the freedoms that make comedy the most organic, noncommercial form of entertainment" and that the community has remained "needlessly silent."

Not so, however. Other LGBTQ+ comics said Chappelle's jokes in the special were disingenuous, misunderstood, harmful but not malicious. Comedian D.L. Hughley and actor Channing Tatum have sided with the Emmy and Grammy winner, while others, such as comedian Hannah Gadsby, called out Netflix for enabling Chappelle's "emotionally stunted partial world view."

Meanwhile, several trans employees at Netflix organized a walkout Wednesday morning to protest the streamer's refusal to pull the hit special. "Transparent" creator and director Joey Soloway, who spoke at the walkout, challenged Netflix to appoint a trans person to its board this week.

On Tuesday, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who has defended Chappelle, admitted to mishandling the fallout from "The Closer" and "screwed up" when responding internally to employees’ concerns about the special, which contains a significant amount of transphobic material. However, Sarandos maintained that the special doesn’t qualify as hate speech.

Masada argued that comedy isn't intended to tear people down and that comedians wouldn't be in business "without laughter and understanding."

"Without unfiltered comedy the world would be a gray, sad place. The laughter comedy brings extends far beyond the confines of the stage, brightening up the lives of every audience member and those they come in contact with. It provides ecstasy on our good days, and reminds us that everyone is human on our worst days," he wrote.

He began his letter by quoting Chappelle, who has said that comedy saved his life.

“I love my art form, because I understand every practitioner of it whether I agree with them or not, I know where they’re coming from," Chappelle said during his 2019 speech at the Kennedy Center while accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. "They want to be heard; they got something to say; there’s something they noticed; they just want to be understood. I love this genre. It saved my life.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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