If Dave Chappelle is now a purported recluse, you wouldn’t know it by his time in Denver. First, he rolled through town with the Oddball Comedy Festival in September, then a spate of shows in November, and returned this spring for 10 shows at Comedy Works from April 29-May 5.
Stories from his November run kept leaking out from people I knew who were lucky enough to score tickets in the five-minute window they were available.
“Yeah, Dave took everyone to Shotgun Willies. He handed Jodee a stack of ones.”
The next night: “It was like a dispensary after-hours thing. There was so much weed it was silly. Dave was cool, though.”
And the legend grew. Suddenly, Dave Chappelle was the T-Pain of comedy, the Pied Piper of poop jokes, leading crowds around their hometown to show them how debaucherous the city could really be. When I heard that he had popped in at Too Much Fun, a Mile High comedy institution run by the Fine Gentleman’s Club, then crashed The 1Up until 3:30 a.m., I wasn’t surprised. Just jealous I hadn’t been there.
But he’s here to do comedy, and so that’s what I went to. The early show on a Thursday night is prone to terrible crowds, with patrons showing up because the tickets were free or because their pal Jenny is getting married. Last night, the room was electric.
Chappelle was quick to acknowledge the fast turnaround on his last shows, noting that in November “the dispensaries couldn’t sell weed to strangers until January.” Letting everyone know off the bat that he wanted to talk current events, he made it through a sentence on Crimea before eliciting the infamous “HA!” of one of Denver comedy’s greatest patrons, Dave Caldwell. Chappelle launched into a story about a guy who had the most evil laugh he had heard — my closest approximation would be a slightly more sinister version of Jon Stewart’s George Bush snicker — and how he would only laugh at evil things. His example? Killing a whale by pleasuring himself with its blowhole. The tone was set.
Launching into his first chunk on the L.A. Clippers, he began by noting that there should be little surprise there are 80-year-old white racists. Giving a faux-speech on former owner Donald Sterling’s behalf addressing the team nearly brought the roof down when he said “There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there’s an ‘I’ in ‘Clippers’ and ‘n&%$#@^’.” He then lampooned the $2.5 million they were donating to fighting intolerance. “If $2.5 million could solve racism, Michael Jackson would have paid it.”
He also spent a good portion of his set talking about LGBT issues, from Chaz Bono, to being black and gay, to his dog Monk, after which he acknowledged that everything he was saying was, in his words, horrible. “You don’t come here to see me not do this.”
Soon, though, you began to see why he still tours. Why he isn’t a recluse. Mainly, I don’t think he ever wants to get off the stage. The legend of his six-hour set is always in the back of my head when I see him perform because I truly think he could do that much time. And make it a good time at that.
Personal stories started flowing. He talked about sketches that never made the air for the Comedy Central series “Chappelle’s Show.” One, in which pro golfer Vijay Singh talked about how his caddie Dave came to the course “smelling of drink” is something he still jokes about with show writer Neal Brennan. Unfortunately, they couldn’t secure the rights to the clip from some golf network. Or another skit that had something to do with Spike Lee. He talked about Chris “Crazy Legs” Fonseca, a comedian with cerebral palsy, having the best set he’s ever seen, followed by Nick DiPaolo bombing equally as hard. “He told all disabled jokes.”
We got other glimpses into his life. Running into R. Kelly at the House of Blues in Chicago and awkwardly ducking him. Seeing Katt Williams at a shoe store where he’s only trying on things because he wants to sleep with the saleswoman, then debating the merits of two pairs when he he actually likes them both. When Williams suggests he simply buy both and Dave explains he’s trying to save money, he finds that both pairs were already paid for by Williams when he gets to the register. It really lands when Williams picks up the tab on $15,000 worth of clothes when he stalks Chappelle to his next store.
But he also can’t help but try new material, to varying degrees of success. Riffing on a story of a Wu-Tang affiliated rapper who cut off his own penis and jumped off a balcony, only to survive, he muses he would have the severed member dipped in gold and force audiences to suck it at his shows. “Should I do that one at my big New York show?”
Or bits about how his friend pitches him movies that are identical to things he’s already seen, only with black actors — “Chocolate Milk” or “Pecan Pi.” How “cocaine girls” are hotter than “weed girls” — embodied in the songs “Super Freak” vs. “Can’t Touch This.” How Osama Bin Laden was thrown to the bottom of the ocean like a Transformer.
They say you always want to leave an audience wanting more, and I’m not sure they could have had enough. But when Chappelle, already well over an hour on stage, started calling for suggestions from now-tipsy fans, I would have rather seen him call it a night. Probably because he had been chain-smoking the entire time and I was dying for a cigarette or bowl.
You could say that everyone got their money’s worth and more, but I’m not entirely sure it’s about the crowd. Chappelle lives on stage, a paradox considering his hiatus from entertainment for so many years. I can’t fathom him NOT getting up, bumping someone at Caroline’s on Broadway to work out a new chunk on the Clippers. Smacking a mic against his leg after a punchline. Smoking cigarettes behind the club with his peers. Maybe he’s making up for lost time.