It garnered controversy, receiving mixed reviews from critics. The special received the backlash because of jokes made about Micheal Jackson and R . Kelly, as well as jokes about the LGBT community and many other subjects.
The primary subject of Sticks & Stones is cancel culture and Dave’s frustrations with a perceived modern preoccupation with ending the careers of individuals after a controversy.
In the introduction, Dave issues a warning in the form of the lyrics to Prince’s “1999”, where he places extra emphasis on the last line of the songs verse: “Tryin’ to run from the destruction, you know I didn’t even care!” This kind of sets up the rest of the performance, in which he speaks of a series of high-profile news stories about celebrities. He contrasts Anthony Bourdain with old friend of his who, despite living under difficult circumstances, never conceived of ending his life—an overarching point being that suicide is fundamentally irrational, not being tied directly to material conditions.
Dave makes mention of the Founding Fathers, with specific reference to their role in slavery whilst drafting the Constitution of the United States. After this he shifts into speaking of the segment of society which bans, blacklists and boycotts entertainers over politically incorrect jokes which deter those, including Dave Chappelle himself, from doing comedy.
Dave then reiterated his stance for those who are yet to watch the documentary Leaving Neverland (2019), which detailed Michael Jackson’s alleged child abuse, not to watch it while stating he doesn’t believe the accusers due to Macaulay Culkin’s stance in saying he was not molested by Jackson or witnessed the singer assaulting anyone.
Dave Chappelle also discussed the sexual abuse allegations against R. Kelly, whom he described as different because Chappelle is “pretty sure he did that”, to which he uses to springboard the point that many individuals are molested and it’s preferable if the person that does it is famous.
Chappelle also took a moment to speak of Kevin Hart, explaining that he was aware it was Hart’s “dream to host the Oscars.” He then uses the Hart introduction to discuss an “unwritten and unspoken rule of show business,” which is that “you are never, ever allowed to upset the LGBT community.” He expresses his dismay when talking about a conversation he had with a member of Standards and Practices about the Chappelle’s Show, and its use of the gay-slur: “faggot”. In the discussion with the woman at S&P, he asked why he couldn’t say the word “faggot” but can use word “nigger”, with apparent impunity. The woman tells him it’s because he’s not gay, to which Chappelle retorts: “Well, Renée, I’m not a nigger either.”
Dave tackles transgenderism and transracialism in which he uses a car ride analogy with LGBTQ. In the beginning, he implies that every rider (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) in the car is white, while noting the car is driven by a white gay male, who says he knows the way through discrimination because he paved the roads; to which Chappelle calls out the historic racism that some members of the LGBTQ community routinely display toward other races, and especially the queer black people “as a double minority.” Adjoined to this idea, he also implies that they believe their queerness is more significant than the black struggle in America, wherein Chappelle points out that each group is actually a separate movement banded together under the umbrella acronym.
He shifts focus by mentioning controversies surrounding comedian Louis C.K., as well as critiquing the #MeToo movement as being too draconian to be effective at reducing real issues faced by women in the industry.
Chappelle exposes the antithesis between the pro and anti-abortion positions; exposing the stark contrast between them, with him laying out his position on abortion. “The right to choose abortion is women’s unequivocal right”, whilst also stating, “I also believe that if you decide to have the baby, a man should not have to pay. That’s fair. If you can kill the baby, I can at least abandon him. It’s my money, my choice.” He also reminds the Atlanta audience that they live in one of several states that have enacted harsher anti-abortion laws since #MeToo.
Chappelle also advocated that black people legally buy guns as a sort of protest troll to have white legislators alter the Second Amendment out of fear.
Chappelle also lampoons the alleged assault against the Empire actor Jussie Smollett, while returning to the cancel culture with how journalist Jeff Taylor of NewNoxNext took comments Dave made about the case at the time.
Stories from his upbringing form the closing segment to the show, as he recalls his father’s words of wisdom, financial difficulties, and economic discrimination which informed him as a child, whilst correlating this with school shootings.