So I was pretty shocked when I read that Dave Chappelle, one of the most misunderstood, controversial, and brilliant comics of our time, was recently booed off the stage at one of the stops of his comeback with the Funny or Die Oddball Comedy & Curiosity tour. Chappelle, known for his amazing work on his groundbreaking Comedy Central series, The Chappelle Show, and various films such as Half Baked, had made a return to comedy. He was making a stop at the Comcast Theater in Hartford, Connecticut. He was the headliner of the show. I am sure he was excited to release some new material to the crowd in Connecticut. What I’m sure he wasn’t ready for was the response that he received. Dave Chappelle was heckled and booed off stage. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was reading this and seeing the Youtube clip of the event.
Dave Chappelle has been out of the public scene for quite sometime. His hit series, The Chappelle Show ran for two seasons from 2003-2005. It’s been well documented what has happened to Dave since that show went off the air. Due to the show’s immense popularity Chappelle received a massive $55 million dollar contract from Comedy Central to continue making the show for two more seasons. But he soon became disgruntled during production of the third season of the filming The Chappelle Show. He said the show was ruining his life. He was working long hours and the pressure to keep the show a success was weighing on him. He also said the show made it hard for him to do standup which is something that he loved to do. So Dave bounced on production and bounced all the way to South Africa. It was a profound event seeing someone who had reached his level of success just drop everything including his show and his career and vanish into thin air. That is exactly what Dave Chappelle did. He vanished.
Chappelle returned to reality in summer of 2005 doing a couple stand up shows in Los Angeles and went on a brief tour. Besides performing standup here and there, (many of those being impromptu performances) the release of his movie, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (Which was awesome btw) and a couple Inside the Actors Studio performances, Chappelle has been fairly quiet and remained out of the public eye. It’s kind of ironic that he finds himself now back in eye of the storm with a return to something he is very good at, stand up comedy. In my opinion, Dave Chappelle is comic gold. He was making me laugh since he debuted on Def Comedy Jam back in 1992. The Chappelle Show was so before it’s time in terms of hilarity and social commentary. Nothing was taboo to Chappelle. Nothing was out of bounds. People may know him for his hysterical Prince and Rick James skits (“I’m Rick James bitch!) but think about the brilliance of “The Black White Supremacist,” or “The Racial Draft.” Dave Chappelle is comedy. It is in his blood. That’s why I was shocked to hear that he was booed off stage. Even the jokes that don’t hit square on, aren’t bad. Something had to give. So I started to dig online to what really went down at that club in Hartford, CT one August night.
This story is all over the net. Google “Chappelle gets booed off stage” and tons of articles come up. But one article stood out in particular to me. It is titled, “Dave Chappelle Didn’t Melt Down,” and it came from ebony.com, which is based on Ebony Magazine, an all black publication. The author of that article, Leslie Ann Lewis, makes an interesting argument about why Chappelle left the stage. It wasn’t because Dave wasn’t funny, or didn’t have strong material. He left the stage because of the unruly crowd that made him want to leave the stage.
Link to Leslie Ann Lewis article
Chappelle came out to massive applause from the crowd, which was made up of mostly a white audience. The show started off fine with Chappelle delivering a couple of jokes about Paula Dean and talking to people as they were taking their seats. But the crowd continued to scream and talk loudly at the comic. They requested that he scream out Chappelle Show and Half Baked references. If this was me on stage, I’d be pretty upset about this too. If you want to see reruns of The Chappelle Show, you can always buy or rent the DVD’s. He politely asked the crowd to stop those requests and let him get on with his show. But the acudience continued to get more riled up, and kept taunting and heckling Chappelle. Now I wasn’t at this show. But I am pretty sure many who were in attendance were under the influence of alcohol, which can sometimes make people act of character. That seemed to be the case at this show from the various reports that I read. Chappelle engaged back and forth with patrons and they continued their banter but finally had enough of the abuse, lit up a cigarette, and walked off the stage to Kanye West’s “New Slaves.” He informed the crowd to calm and quiet down, to let him get on with his act, but they never did. Chappelle wasn’t going to make an ass out of himself to a crowd that didn’t really care about what he had to say. He decided to leave. And I don’t blame him.
Comedy is art, and live comedy is fucking hard. To do stand up comedy well, one must allow themselves to be completely vulnerable. Comedy is honest, raw, self-depricating, and painful. It is difficult enough to find humor in some of the topics that comics discuss but with any type of performance, it’s humbling and takes courage. No one wants to be heckled, or booed off a stage. But comics, like any other type of performer want to be able to perform. According to other articles written about this event, Chappelle has killed it on other stops on this tour. Chappelle broke records in Montreal for the Just for Laughs tour. Chappelle is not new to the game. The guy can deliver a good joke. It sounds like the crowd in Connecticut wasn’t ready to hear one. In Lewis’ article she speaks to the larger issues of race and the audience. She argues that she felt uncomfortable seeing Chappelle get booed at by a bunch of drunk, mainly white male faces. It annoyed her that after Chappelle tried to get the crowd, who paid their hard earned money for tickets, to quiet down and let him perform his act, they continued to be rude to the man. Would this have happened if the crowd was mostly black? Who knows? Would this have happened if the audience was largely not under the influence of alcohol? It probably wouldn’t have. I know that Dave Chappelle is intelligent enough to know that he isn’t going to be clowned by anyone. He has too much pride and integrity for that. I don’t know if this is fair to say this happened because of race either, although, I can see parallels with what Ms. Lewis was trying to say in her piece. She says, “We have seen more Black comedians bow to racist tropes, demean themselves—albeit unintentionally—for White audiences.” This can be traced back to the work of legendary comics such as Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, and Eddie Murphy. This isn’t the first time Chappelle has left a performance and won’t be his last. At the end of the day, art is art. And all Chappelle wants people to do is respect his art. If you don’t think he’s funny, that is fine, you don’t have to laugh at his jokes. But there is a clear difference between being laughed with and being laughed at, and I don’t blame Chappelle for letting everyone know he wasn’t ok with being laughed at. Lewis goes on to say, “Chappelle’s Connecticut audience, made up of largely young White males, demanded a shuck and jive. Men who seemed to have missed the fine satire of the Chappelle show demanded he do characters who, out of the context of the show look more like more racist tropes, than mockery of America’s belief in them.”
Another interesting article written about the event from LaughSpin
The Funny or Die Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival runs through Sept. 22nd and hits 11 more cities. It is yet to be seen if Chappelle will encounter any backlash at those events due to the situation that took place in Hartford. I think it is important that Dave Chappelle is back doing comedy. We need more important, intelligent comics like Chappelle in the game. He is a breath of fresh air to not only black comedy, but comedy in general. Maybe some of these venues need to regulate the alcohol consumption, so events like the ones in Hartford don’t ruin the viewing experience for those who are just trying to have a night out and enjoy some laughter. I’m sure that is all Dave Chappelle was trying to do on that night. Not create a media firestorm. Not be a topic of conversation in blogs and on Twitter and Facebook for days. But instead, just make us laugh. Seems fair enough.
Check out B’s follow up on this post: Chappelle’s Crazy, it’s dismissive