“To staff, artists, 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 must hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we know we let you down. We are not just a black box with people in it, and we understand that First Ave is not just a room, but meaningful beyond our walls.”
The storied venue, which is best known for its appearances in Prince’s 1984 film “Purple Rain,” added that while it believes in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, “we lost sight of the impact” booking Chappelle would have on the community.
“We know there are some who will not agree with this decision; you are welcome to send feedback,” First Avenue wrote.
A representative for Chappelle did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday.
Chappelle has faced criticism for comments that LGBTQ advocacy groups say could incite harm against transgender people. As part of “The Closer,” Chappelle joked about transgender genitalia, said “gender is a fact” and told his audience he was on “team TERF,” an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. The comedian also defended J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” books, who has been criticized for making statements seen as transphobic. Chappelle has joked about the transgender community in the past, including in his 2019 special, “Sticks & Stones.”
GLAAD, a media watchdog group, previously accused the Chappelle program of having “anti-LGBTQ content” that violates Netflix’s policy to reject programs inciting hate or violence. The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group, called on Netflix last year to immediately pull the special and “directly apologize to the transgender community.”
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive, has repeatedly defended the comedian, saying last year that “creative freedom” was one reason the company would not take down the special. Sarandos has acknowledged that although some people may find Chappelle’s stand-up to be “mean-spirited,” “our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
Fallout from the special has happened throughout the last year. After the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington planned to dedicate the student theater to the comedian, Chappelle unexpectedly announced last month that it would not bear his name. 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 the Ellington audience last month that the criticism “sincerely” hurt him but that it lacked nuance and wasn’t about his work.
In announcing the cancellation Wednesday, First Avenue said Chappelle’s show was moved to the Varsity Theater, where all tickets for the performance would be honored. Chappelle had already been 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 saying, “Transphobia isn’t a joke.” One Chappelle fan was also hit by an egg by a man who protesters don’t believe was part of the demonstration, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Chappelle reportedly teased the protesters during his Wednesday night set but urged those in attendance at the Varsity Theater to keep supporting First Avenue, the Star Tribune reported.
“It’s an important place for our culture,” he said.
Perry Stein and Amanda Andrade-Rhoades contributed to this report.