With nine shows down and three more to go, Dave Chappelle has been running a comedy marathon this week at Comedy Works. With almost no promotion outside of the club's e-mail list, tickets have been selling out in record time, and no matter how many extra shows are added (sometimes three in a night, running until 1:40 a.m.), the funny-hungry fans gobble up tickets like they're Soylent Green.
While Chappelle didn't invite all of us out to Shotgun Willies afterward, as he did with Sunday night's crowd (nearly all 300 of them took him up on the trip to the strip club), the often unscripted performance I saw last night aroused bigger laughs than I'd heard at Comedy Works in a long time. And Chappelle still had another show to do that night, as well as three more tonight.
Similar to his heavily anticipated show at last September's Oddball Comedy Festival, Chappelle's appearance here came with a handful of strict demands: Anyone who so much as peeks at their cellphone during the show will be instantly ejected from the club; same goes for heckling. Meanwhile, Chappelle will be allowed to smoke as many American Spirit cigarettes as he feels necessary during the show (around seven to ten).
And, of course, there's always that ubiquitous audience member who feels he or she is so damn clever to have thought of yelling a Chappelle Show reference at the performer. "Let's be in the present, and not waste time shouting out things from the past," said emcee Deacon Gray before the show started. "And let's not waste time recording this for the future on your phone....This guy's like Miles Davis, let's be in the present for it."
For anyone who scoffs at the comparison of Chappelle to the legendary jazz musician, consider the chances that any other entertainer who quit working working for nearly six years (Chappelle's last special was in 2005) would then emerge out of nowhere for an unannounced tour, with little promotion, and still sell out twelve shows in five days at $55 a pop -- and be allowed to chain-smoke throughout his packed performances. Chappelle entered the stage to the music of Jay Z, exited to Kanye West, and will soon be headed to Minneapolis for eight more secret shows in four days, performing at Prince's hometown club, First Avenue.
At least in the reverence he gets from the public, Chappelle is as close to a Richard Pryor as this generation is going to see. The stringent rules placed around his shows only add to the mystique and reverence around the experience; it's like entering a cathedral or a Japanese garden. Or at least that's how it seemed to me last night: If anything, I thought it was kind of redundant to even remind people that Chappelle is touchy about cellphones or "I'm Rick James bitch!" shout-outs. But a group of truly hammered brosters in the second row proved me wrong, repeatedly trying to chat-up the reclusive performer like he was their jolly uncle at Christmas.
"That shit was terrible," Chappelle said early in the night, referring to his signature film Half Baked, as if saying to the crowd, If that's what you've come here for, you're in the wrong place. "If you ever see a sequel to that, and I'm in it, then I AM BROKE!"
Looking like he's added about thirty pounds of lean muscle, Chappelle was charged but playful last night, ashing his cigarette on the floor, cracking himself up and improvising with the crowd. While around half of his act was recycled material performed at the Oddball performance, many of the jokes had evolved and sharpened, particularly those focusing on the trials of his Hartford, Connecticut debacle in August 2012. "I had a show the next night in Chicago," he explained. "Have any of you ever been booed by 30,000 people, then had to get back on stage the next night? No, I suppose none of you have. Let me explain it this way: It'd be like fucking a girl, then discovering she's got a mousetrap in her pussy and it snaps on your dick.... And then you gotta fuck this girl the next night. You might have a difficult time getting your dick hard."
For anyone who might be worried about Chappelle's mental health in light of his peaks and valleys over the last ten years, last night's performance would have removed concerns. Chappelle looked as though he was having a ball throughout the performance, volleying jokes with the crowd (despite concerned security guards, who rushed toward anyone drawing attention to themselves), slapping the mic on his thigh and doubling over with his own laughter.
"Paula Deen got fired," he said at one point, blindly segueing into a surreal bit about calling up the recently fired Food Network star, apologizing for the hard time she's had, then offering her a job as his personal chef...dressed as Aunt Jemimah. "'You niggers want some fried chicken,' she shouts at us. And as a matter of fact, I do. 'Ahm gonna bake you black motherfuckers an apple pie! You like that, don't you nigger!'"
Visit the Comedy Works website to sign up for the mailing list that grants you access to these unannounced shows.
For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.
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