In 2020, celebrity endorsements for presidential candidates is normal. To hear that Jonathan Van Ness supports Elizabeth Warren, or that Bon Iver will play a concert ahead of a Bernie Sanders event is relatively routine at this point.
So it wasn’t that odd when comedian Dave Chappelle announced he was a member of the Yang Gang in mid-January. Nor that he was coming to Iowa State University for a comedy show to benefit Yang. But without any public explanation for the endorsement, it had many people asking, why?
The comedian isn’t known for being involved in presidential politics, but after reading Yang’s book on a flight, he said he was intrigued by Yang as a candidate.
“I found him to be something that’s really hard to be as a candidate: he was inspiring. His narrative and the courage it took to be the first Asian-American to make a real go of the presidential race. And I believed him,” Chappelle told a group of reporters on Tuesday evening.
Chappelle reached out to the campaign after hearing his friends talk up Yang’s debate performance. He met with Yang, a meeting that lasted far longer than the handful of minutes it was supposed to. On the other side, Chappelle was a member of the Yang Gang.
It goes beyond intrigue, though, and touches on real concern for his fellow Americans, as well as Chappelle’s neighbors in Dayton, Ohio. Chappelle said he recognized Yang’s wealth of ideas could help everyday people.
For example, Chappelle said Yang’s Universal Basic Income, the idea to give every American $1,000 a month, would do his neighbors a lot of good.
“I started imagining what Universal Basic Income could do for my community and it would save it almost instantly,” he said. “If you were to take a poll in Dayton and say, ‘What would you rather have, $12,000 a year or health insurance?’ Everyone’s taking the money. Health insurance is great but groceries are necessary too.”
Chappelle used a documentary, American Factory, made by some of his neighbors to make his point, saying that it illuminates an important story about Dayton, Ohio.
“Dayton, Ohio has a third of the people there living below the poverty line … and people in Dayton are having a hard time getting the things they need,” he said.
A lot of his motivation is connected to regular Americans and American society as a whole.
“You know you hear people talk about ‘Make America Great Again,’” he said. “How about Make America Feel Better Again? And I think his platform handles a lot of the emotional content of what being an American is like.”
He said a lot of the problems people face, like the fear of missing bills, would be alleviated instantly by something like UBI, and it’s a proposal everyone should support.
“I like the idea of giving people choices, putting money in their hands and giving them the choice,” Chappelle said. “They would consider things that aren’t even an option to consider now. And that part of his platform I found incredibly exciting.”
Chappelle also said this goes beyond simply beating Trump, echoing one of Yang’s common talking points about how Trump is a symptom of a deeper disease in American society. He said he sees a lot of problems when he travels around the country that make him think someone should fix them.
“I appreciate someone who has the courage to be like: ‘well alright, I’ll do it,’” Chappelle said.
Yang said he and Chappelle bonded over a lot of things they have in common, like being dads and having similar hopes for the country, when they met.
“It’s not necessarily the norm for someone of Dave’s stature as a celebrity to come and throw down with a political candidate or campaign,” Yang said.
Chappelle said it felt important to endorse now because so much of society and the economy are changing and so many people are suffering that it felt necessary to speak up. He called the wealth disparity between himself and his neighbors heartbreaking, and recognized he should use the platform he has to raise awareness.
“If people listen to me so be it , if they don’t, so be it. But I know I’m doing my civic duty by just saying the thing that I believe in,” Chappelle said. “This is without irony or a punchline. I’m just telling you, this guy’s got some great ideas, you should check it out.”
The Stephens Auditorium, which has a capacity of about 2,700, appeared completely full when some reporters were let in near the end. Chappelle, who was giving a standup routine with more political topics weaved in, brought Yang onstage for a few minutes at the end to make a quick pitch. Chappelle questioned the crowd what date the caucus was on.
And at the end of the day, back with the press, Chappelle said it all comes down to Yang’s ideas.
“A lot of people say, professionally, it’s not wise to support any candidate, but this idea is so good that I think it should exist,” Chappelle said. “And I think the fountainhead of many of the good ideas on the table this year are coming from the same source: Andrew Yang.”
by Nikoel Hytrek