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Dave Chappelle Theatre Dedication Ceremony

Source: Shannon Finney / Getty

Yesterday, Dave Chappelle paid a visit to his former high school, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C., for an event whereupon his alma mater would name its theater in the comedian’s honor. However, Chappelle surprised the attendees when he informed them that he was refusing the distinction. The Washington Post reported that he did not want “to distract from students focusing on the meaning of their art” and that the space will be known as the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression instead.

Chappelle’s statement comes after months of uproar due to jokes made about the transgender community in his Netflix special, The Closer. The Ellington School first decided to celebrate its famous alumnus last October with the renaming ceremony. Over the years, Chappelle has reportedly donated more than $100,000 to the school as well as one of his Emmy Awards and called the honor “the most significant honor of my life” in October.

But members of the student body protested the idea, however, and threatened to walk out if the school proceeded with the event. So the school chose to postpone it — but not without giving the comedian some support, too.

“We recognize that not everyone will accept or welcome a particular artist’s point of view, product or craft, but reject the notion that a ‘cancel culture’ is a healthy or constructive means to teach our students how society should balance creative freedom with protecting the right and dignity of all of its members,” the school told POLITICO in a November 2021 statement.

That same month, Chappelle also poked fun at the ceremony’s postponement during a performance in Indianapolis, IN. “If anyone says trans people are angry at me, they are wrong,” he told the crowd, according to IndyStar. “And if you see (a trans person), buy them a coffee or lipstick or whatever they want and tell them Dave Chappelle sent you.” He also added, “They’re canceling stuff I didn’t even want to do… If you think you’re mad at me — remember, I didn’t disinvite you from anything.”

But on Monday night, Chappelle admitted he was “sincerely” upset by the blowback because it lacked nuance and was no longer about the jokes. In fact, he revealed that he actually arrived at his decision three days before yesterday’s event. “But the Ellington family is my family,” Chappelle said.