Comedian Dave Chappelle continues to tour after a much-publicized, truncated show in Hartford Connecticut last August. On December 21st, after only a week advance notice, Chappelle appeared to a full house of about 3,000 at the Tower Theater outside Philadelphia.
The Hartford show has been reported as either a debacle or, as Chappelle himself has described it, as a whole lot of loud, white, frat boys that kept interrupting his set. Chappelle stopped and asked people to be quiet; they would not. After leaving the stage the crowd booed. The incident draws obvious comparisons to one of the biggest entertainment stories of the last decade, when Chappelle abruptly walked away from his wildly successful Comedy Central TV show, Chappelle’s Show, in 2005.
There are those that still consider the end of Chappelle’s TV show — where Chappelle walked away from tens of millions of dollars — as a simple mental breakdown. Dave Chappelle himself explained how the show’s deep racial commentary that often poked fun at African Americans, was too often being misconstrued by his white fans. That, along with the pressures of being a one-man, mega-million dollar entity unto himself, was enough for Chappelle to take a break.
For the Philly show, Chappelle was enthusiastic and appeared to be having a lot of fun — though he joked that Philly, as the birthplace of America, was “the perfect place to end my career.” Another sign of Chappelle’s fragile state were the cards placed on every seat echoing the numerous announcements by DJ Trauma there would be “NO: Cell Phones, texting … yelling out anything…” i.e. anyone doing annoying things to disrupt the set would be escorted out.
Good for Dave. The audience should focus on the show. Attention-starved, narcissistic hecklers can’t interrupt the show? Amen. Get your own comedy show.
Chappelle was preceded by two well-received comedians: Donnell Rawlings — also known as Ashy Larry from Chappelle’s Show (“I’m rich, biaaaaatch!”), and Hannibal Burress. Rawlings joked about women and their borderline addictions to their vibrators while pondering ridiculous stereotypes of gays in the military. Burress riffed on the absurdity of police officers riding around on horses in 2013 and the oddly pleasant nature of British police officers. Reminiscent of Chappelle’s excellent 2005 live comedy/rap concert documentary, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, Atlanta’s DJ Trauma mixed in late-80s and 90s rap and R&B throughout the night.
Chappelle’s 90-minute set began by riffing on the Hartford incident. In short, Chappelle still thinks Hartford sucks and now he is milking the city for additional laughs. He goofed on Hartford’s mayor for stooping to be interviewed by tabloid muckraker, TMZ, and explained the odd feeling of hating 30,000 people simultaneously.
Other funny topics were Paula Dean, the Food Channel star recently fired for racially-insensitive comments, whom Chappelle feels for. So much so he said he would allow her to use the n-word around his home as along as she cooked for his family. Later, he explained how its hard finding time to masturbate given the constraints of marriage and fatherhood, though he has found creative and hilarious ways to carve out time and space. Chappelle also offered some one-on-one, hilarious fatherly advice to a young man in the front row in a long-term-relationship.
The crowd loved every minute of it. I will say, however, that while Chappelle is certainly known to be profane, his set was a bit overly-reliant on pure raunch. For example, Chappelle explained that he has some fifty jokes that all share the same punchline: “p—- juice”. While he promised he would not use them all during the show, that punchline still carried him through some awfully long stretches. He is still funny, but for those used to Chappelle’s super smart, razor-sharp, social commentary, this material falls a bit short.
Nonetheless, Chappelle remains arguably the best stand-up of his generation and is responsible for one of the best sketch-comedy shows since the first years of Saturday Night Live. Saturday night Dave did not disappoint and he looked ready for more.