The minute Dave Chappelle walked out on stage at Radio City Music Hall, the sold-out audience smiled, cheered loudly, and laughed. These are the reactions to feelings we have when we’re reunited with a long lost friend, and to many, that is who Chappelle is to us: A friend we have missed since he abruptly ended his now classic Comedy Central sketch comedy show, “Chappelle’s Show” in 2006.
Naturally, this gave Chappelle an advantage. As brilliant of a stand-up comedian he is, Chappelle doesn’t have to work as hard to get the kinds of responses for which most of his other peers would kill to receive. Of course we laugh because Chappelle, in the moment, is funny, but we also laugh because we want him to be as funny as we remembered him to be. We laugh, maybe, in hopes that our approval will coax him to come back to the place where we all fell in love with him. That’s not the stage, but the television set.
It is obvious Chappelle’s style lends itself more to sketch than to stand up. This is not to say his show on Tuesday night, which was closed out by a set from The Roots (more on them later), wasn’t good. It’s just that Chappelle’s comedic style is built on elaborate storytelling and illustrative setups. Punch lines are rarely delivered neatly. Rather, Chappelle shows his work. He wants you to laugh at the story from beginning to end. This is why in the midst of talking, Chappelle will break into mischievous grins and various accents. Those are intended to make us laugh, too.
And laugh we did, because we missed him, and as authentic as the laughs may be, they were bittersweet. The “no heckling” signs were obeyed by all. No one was screaming out things like “I’m Rick James, bitch!” even though that was the Chappelle we miss the most. It may not be polite to say, but that is the better of the Chappelle’s, and that’s not his fault. Stand-up alone limits Chappelle’s skillset. Still, Chappelle is gifted and demonstrated as much last night on stage. Here were his four best jokes of the night.
Chappelle on Current Events:
Perhaps in an attempt to show Chappelle still walks and engages with the world like the rest of us, and isn’t holed up in some underground bunker when he’s off stage, the comedian starts rattling off bits about the Malaysian Airlines crash and Donald Sterling. But none was funnier than his bit about celebrity chef Paula Deen who came under fire last year for racist remarks she made towards black people. Chappelle staged a mock phone call between he and Paula Deen, in which he convinces her to move in with him and become his family’s personal chef. The funny here is in his impression of Deen’s southern accent, an exaggerated twang that he uses to refer to himself as we imagine Deen would refer to him, “David Chappelle.” Also, the idea of Chappelle making Deen dress as Aunt Jemima won’t ever not be funny.
Chappelle on the LGBT Community:
Whether or not some of Chappelle’s jokes on the LGBT community are funny or offensive is going to be up to the individual. But one bit killed: Chappelle talks about watching an interview with a transgendered person who had a baby. In his recap, he talks about the sad portion of the interview where the transgendered person played back hateful messages he received on his answering machine. “I was mostly sad at first that he had an answering machine,” Chappelle says. “How can your body be so far in the future and your phone so far in the past?” Everyone laughed, except for maybe those who still own answering machines.
Chappelle on Being a Father to His Sons:
The Chappelle household sounds like a fun one, and some of the comedian’s funniest moments come when he lets us into a day in the life of his family. He talks about how because he has sons, they think everything their dad does is awesome, but they also treat him like he’s their brother. When he suggests they watch television together and the kids tell him, “Mom says we can’t,” he gives a look and then says, “That’s y’all, I’m gonna watch these cartoons, you do what you want.”
Chappelle on Masturbation:
“The only time I ever do it, is when my wife slips up and tells me how long she’s going to be gone.” Chappelle breaks into an impression of his wife, “Hey Dave, I’m going to take the kids to my mom’s for a little bit, I’ll be back in a couple of hours…” Dave asks, “A couple hours, are you sure? That’s two hours of jerking off. I can really get it in.”
Once finished, Chappelle introduced the musical act for the night. This was the second of five musical performances he added on to his shows, six if you include the unexpected performance Kanye West gave at opening night. On Tuesday night, Chappelle introduced The Roots, perhaps the musical group most associated with Chappelle. Before they became Jimmy Fallon’s house band on “The Tonight Show,” Questlove served as a musical director for “Chappelle’s Show.”
It was a nice touch and for those who remember Chappelle’s 2005 concert documentary “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” which was filmed in Brooklyn. The Roots were one of the featured acts, and perhaps in an effort to maintain the sense of nostalgia, ran through most of their early catalogue, including their 1995 single, “Proceed” and “Adrenaline and “100% Dundee” both from their 1999 hit album, “Things Fall Apart.”
The spirit of the block party stayed intact, as Chrisette Michelle joined the band for “Rising Up” minus Wale, who appears on the original cut. But the guest appearance that stole the show was Bilal. The singer came out for “Dear God 2.0” and “The OtherSide”. The latter collaboration brought the whole house down with not only Bilal’s amazing vocal virtuosity on full display, but also a gripping solo from Roots guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas.
Off to the left of the stage, Chappelle was in view, his protruding teeth visible in a full smile as he bobbed his head along to the songs, and gave pounds and daps to friends and associates nearby. He came off not only as a fan—raising his hands in the air and rapping along to Black Thought—but also like someone who missed his friends. It was a familiar look, like the one audience members gave him when he was on stage moments before.