In a newly released stand-up clip, Dave Chappelle has once again upended the conventions of bourgeois morality. In this case the standing up occurred at a Monday-night town meeting in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where the comedian did something some people found a little unseemly: He threatened to pull the plug on his investments in the city, which include a planned restaurant and comedy club, if officials approved a zoning change to permit townhouses and affordable housing.
Offended? You’re not alone. This is simply not how affordable housing gets rejected in polite society. You’re supposed to declare your town a mountain lion habitat, or defend the sacred views from the highway. You say you weren’t consulted, or that the housing is too ugly, too affordable, or not affordable enough. Just complaining about the parking shortage is plenty good enough for most of us.
Then again, that’s why we love Dave Chappelle: Because he’s not afraid to break down the euphemisms, the conventions, the tired cliches, and say what he’s really thinking. Like Monday’s Yellow Springs city meeting, when he reiterated that he was serious about withdrawing the millions of dollars he had invested in the town. “I cannot believe you would make me audition for you,” he told city leaders. “You look like clowns. And then: “I am not bluffing. I will take it all off the table.”
The city council chose not to rezone the land. There would be no affordable housing in Yellow Springs that day.
But it would be a mistake to read this as a story about a local business magnate throwing his weight around. Behind Chappelle stood a much more typical local uprising that, in reality, is far more representative of the roadblocks to building more housing in prosperous places than the comedian’s threats.