Chappelle vs. Burr

The two comedy legends released firey specials this summer, and both were met with harsh criticism

Nikhil Patel, Editor-In-Chief

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“Paper Tiger” and “Sticks and Stones” are two very different stand-up specials by two very different comedians. Dave Chappelle and Bill Burr have both been lauded and lampooned for their special’s self-proclaimed anti-political correctness stance.

source: Netflix
CONTROVERSIAL COMEDIANS. Dave Chapelle and Bill Burr both released controversial stand-up specials toward the end of the summer. Though the specials are presented in different ways, both comedians were accused of being offensive to certain groups.

To say that “Paper Tiger,” released Sept. 10, was better than “Sticks and Stones,” released Aug. 25, is not a knock on the latter but rather a credit to a former. Burr’s irreverent take on everything from the #MeToo movement to everyone who was upset by Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest cemented him as one of the great contemporary, equal-opportunity critics.

Although the beginning starts rocky — with a significant amount of “shock” humor and contritement to get into a rhythm — Bill Burr quickly falls into his trademark rhythm. He then moved on to topics like childhood, men and women, marriage, and parenthood. While the special is, in the lightest terms, insensitive, Burr includes great set-ups and punchlines while deftly riding off the energy of both you at your computer and the crowd that is with him in London.

The special is classic Burr: clever, simple punchlines that are universally relatable, told by an old crank who likes to yell. Burr explores his childhood, with a great impression of his father on Christmas morning as he pops a vein.

The production quality and showmanship is great — he ends with a picture displayed of his daughter looking into the theater which looked and felt great. Burr is a master of working crowds, and this really shines through in his latest special.

The special was funny at times, sad at times (his bit about his dog was devastating), but most of all, it was real, authentic Bill Burr. One of the few specials that successfully balances the emotional and comedic without sounding like a TEDTalk, “Paper Tigers” is one of the best stand-up specials I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch.

“Sticks and Stones” certainly isn’t Dave Chappelle’s best special — that honor would probably go to “Killin’ Them Softly” or “The Age of Spin” — the fact that it is so good is a credit to Chappelle’s ability to be effortlessly funny.

“Sticks and Stones” is good because it is so incredibly unapologetic. His jokes succeed because he owns the joke — he wears his controversiality on his skin. His inflexibility is a key reason for his success. Many people say that their haters fuel them, but Chappelle takes that to a new extreme. Finding humor in every criticism of his comedy, he masterfully dissects every comment he hears alongside news stories (especially ones about French actors). This special is simply hilarious.

While it lacks any semblance of the seriousness that Burr occasionally veers into in “Paper Tigers,” Chappelle still takes shots at what he sees as serious social problems. He takes shots at people who are trying to silence him, to stop him from being him. And that’s what makes the special so entertaining — he truly refuses to back down. Nothing is unexpected, it’s all Chapelle, so you should already know what you’re getting into when you start watching.

He also ends the special with a great 20 minute epilogue answering questions and generally interacts with the audience, which is surprisingly insightful. It’s the truest test of a comedian to be able to be funny off-the-cuff, and Chappelle passes with aplomb.

Both specials were received similarly by audiences (“Paper Tigers” received a 97% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes; “Sticks and Stones” received a 99%). They were received much differently by critics, with “Paper Tiger” netting an 86% and “Sticks and Stones” getting stuck with an abysmal 35%.

But therein lies the problem. Comedy is inherently subjective — I can tell you that I liked the specials, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll like the specials as well. The only way to find that out is watching both of the specials yourself — which, as long as you are willing to laugh at yourself and everything around you, is a really good idea.