Comedian Dave Chappelle hit Eugene, Ore. with only a few days’ notice on July 23, performing to a sold-out crowd at the McDonald Theatre. Appearing to do improv for most of the show, Chappelle pleased the crowd with anecdotes and wit that was, at times, subtle and profound. To make a comparison to Mark Twain might be apt, as the comedian seems to have mellowed with time. Chappelle seems almost to have a collected calm about him surrounding his tenure on “Chappelle’s Show,” which appears to hound him at every turn.
“I was ready for that shit. I’m over it. It means nothing to me now. I’m Rick James-proof,” Chappelle said.
During a 2004 stand-up performance, Dave Chappelle walked off stage after constantly being heckled and cat-called. Chappelle later walked back on stage and said, “You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you’re not smart enough to get what I’m doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.”
Shortly after, Chapelle went on an extended hiatus in South Africa, leaving “Chappelle’s Show” to lie fallow.
For Chappelle’s show this evening, he dealt with the inevitable heckling with grace and appreciation for his audience.
According to Chappelle’s interview with James Lipton in the television show “Inside the Actors Studio,” during Chapplle’s early career, he had a short conversation with his father concerning his impending career in stand-up. After a brief father/son back and forth, Dave’s father knew that his son was set on the path to go into show business. He offered his son a bit of advice: “Name your price in the beginning. If it ever gets more expensive than the price you’ve named, get out.”
“Thus, Africa,” Chappelle said.
During this same interview, Chappelle remarked on his journey to South Africa in 2005:
“Why is Dave Chappelle going to Africa? Why does Mariah Carey make a hundred-million dollar deal and take her clothes off on TRL? A weak person can not get here and talk to you. Ain’t no weak people talking to you. So what is happening in Hollywood? Nobody knows! The worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy. That’s bullshit. These people are not crazy, they’re strong people. Maybe the environment is a little sick.”
Chappelle continued, “You guys are students now, so you’re idealists. But you don’t know about where art and corporate interests meet yet. Just prepare to have your heart broken.”
After a brief opening set by stand-up comic Nathan Brannon, Chappelle walked onto stage in front of a ravenous fanbase.
Back and forth he went during a two-hour set, pulling topics seemingly out of thin air. Even his segues seemed barely able to contain the comedy and charm that Chappelle is capable of.
Upon entering the McDonald Theatre, signs were posted everywhere proclaiming “No phone calls, no heckling, no texting, no tweeting. If you fail to do this, we will remove you.” It was only a matter of time before somebody tried to take a few video shots of Chappelle on their cell phone.
“Sorry man, but I gotta ask that you bring that phone up here so I can delete that,” Chappelle said. “I appreciate you being here, and I appreciate that you want to record my jokes but, it’ll end up on YouTube for free, and I’d rather tell my jokes on stage. At $50 a ticket,”
The crowd applauded.
Even after getting sidetracked by a bizarre and confusing question to the comedian about “moments past and future” that was so esoteric, it was rendered indecipherable, Chappelle took it in stride despite the remarkably harsh calls for the woman who asked the question to retake her seat from the audience.
Gone were too many jokes about marijuana and race. They remained in his set, but they have a softer edge to them now, and a more accepting, worldly way about them. Chappelle was a pleasure to watch, and it seems like he truly finds joy in his comedy.
“I’ve set out all these goals and I’ve achieved them. I wanted to be rich enough to know what fork to use in a fancy restaurant,” Chappelle said.
“You’ve gotten there, what now?” called out an audience member.
“I’m just coasting on being a rich douchebag,” Chappelle said.
Chappelle has grown in his career, and it seems, as a person as well. This is a victory for one man deciding to change himself; to decide who he wants to be. In a way, this is a victory for us all. People can change. You don’t always have to sell your soul for success. The person that Chapelle has chosen to be is a gracious one. A funny one. A stand-up comedian.
And we’re all luckier for it.