By Mike Corbett Starting tonight, Dave Chappelle, one of the most gifted standup comedians in the world, will begin a set of nine straight shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It’s quite exciting to see Chappelle getting back to what he does best; with this being his first major stand up event since 2013’s Oddball Comedy Festival. My only hope for these latest shows is that Dave Chappelle can perform his act uninterrupted, a feat that sadly seems quite rare these days.
In 2003, Chappelle launched the tremendously funny and endlessly entertaining Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central, and launched himself into comedy superstardom. The show’s success brought Chappelle legions of fans and nationwide exposure, but also seemed to; at least temporarily, completely ruin his standup career. It wasn’t that Chappelle was unable to think up new material; it was that he was simply unable to perform it. During Chappelle’s Show’s run, and especially after his infamous Rick James sketch, Chappelle found himself drowned out by audience members screaming quotes from the show. Instead of being able to perform his standup, Chappelle was instead met with hundreds of drunken idiots shouting “I’m Rick James, bitch!” This happened at show after show, until Chappelle finally decided to drop out of the public eye entirely, and spend much of the rest of the decade in relative obscurity.
It’s always troubling to see talented people reduced down to a single catch phrase, but in Dave Chappelle’s case, it was especially tragic. Chappelle’s comedy isn’t just hilarious; it’s insightful, thought provoking and unafraid to push boundaries. He’s not Larry the Cable Guy; he’s never needed a catch phrase to get a cheap laugh and a quick pop, because when Chappelle is on, the audience is always laughing. When he stepped away, he was arguably the best standup working at the time. Comedy fans missed out on a large chunk of Dave Chappelle’s prime, because too many fools couldn’t sit down, shut up and laugh. No, it was more fun for them to buy a ticket and shout a funny thing they heard on the TV once, over and over and over. What makes the entire situation worse is the fact that it wasn’t even one of the funniest lines of the show! Chappelle’s Show featured countless classic sketches but hecklers couldn’t even pick a good line.
Chappelle performed sporadically for the next several years, before finally going on a major tour again with 2013’s Oddball Comedy Festival. Surely after almost a decade since the last new episode of Chappelle’s Show aired, Dave Chappelle would be able to perform his comedy without interruption. Wrong; same shit, different decade. While his Oddball run featured more successful shows than failures, the fact that those failures occurred at all is disheartening. I’m sure those fans that got to see an uninterrupted show found it far more entertaining than hearing him say a line from an old TV show ever would have been.
For Chappelle, that’s the sad paradox he’s had to deal with for over a decade: He made a lot of people laugh and because of that, he’s often unable to do it anymore. With any luck these New York shows will go off without a hitch and people will want to hear what new things Chappelle has to say, instead of a throwaway line from 10 years ago. It’s that kind of idiocy that drove one of the best voices in standup away for years. Hopefully this time the crowds will shut up, listen and do the only thing they bought a ticket to do; laugh.