“To the staff, performers and our community, we hear you and we are sorry,” First Avenue said in a statement, which was posted to 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 play, but has meaning beyond our walls.
The legendary venue, which is best known for its appearances in Prince’s 1984 film ‘Purple Rain’, added that while it believes in diversity of voices and freedom of artistic expression, “we’ve lost a lot of for the impact” Chappelle’s reservation would have on the community. .
“We know that some will not agree with this decision; you are welcome to send comments,” First Avenue wrote.
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 say could incite harm to transgender people. As part of “The Closer,” Chappelle joked about transgender genitalia, said “gender is a fact,” and told his audience that he was part of “Team TERF,” an acronym for transexclusive radical feminist. The comedian also came to the defense of JK Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” books, who was criticized for his remarks considered to be transphobic. Chappelle has joked about the transgender community in the past, including on his 2019 special, “Sticks & Stones.”
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GLAAD, a media watchdog group, previously accused the Chappelle program of having “anti-LGBTQ content” that violates Netflix’s policy to reject programs that incite hatred or violence. The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights group, called on Netflix last year to immediately pull the special and “apologize directly 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 wouldn’t scrap the special. Sarandos acknowledged that while some people may find Chappelle’s stand-up “nasty”, “our members enjoy it and it’s an important part of our content offering”.
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Fallout from the special has been happening 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 be named after him. Chappelle declined the honor amid controversy over his Netflix special last year at a time when Ellington students had also raised concerns.
Chappelle has been open about the backlash, telling Ellington audiences last month that the criticism had “truly” hurt him but lacked nuance and was not about his work.
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Announcing the cancellation on Wednesday, First Avenue said Chappelle’s show had been moved to the Varsity Theater, where all tickets for the show would be honored. Chappelle was already scheduled to perform at the Varsity Theater on Thursday and Friday.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Varsity Theater to oppose Chappelle, many of them chanting, “Trans rights matter!” and holding signs that read, “Transphobia is no joke.” A Chappelle fan was also egged by a man who protesters said was not part of the protest, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Chappelle reportedly teased protesters during his Wednesday night set, but urged those in attendance at the Varsity Theater to continue supporting First Avenue, the Star Tribune reported.
“It’s an important place for our culture,” he says.
Perry Stein and Amanda Andrade-Rhoades contributed to this report.