The scene demanded it: Tickets were hard to come by, people were trying to sneak in the back, everyone was fantastically drunk and eager to see a modern comedy legend. If you don't take precautions in a situation like that, things can get ugly. Having the cops there as a failsafe was a wise move. But it meant that the other comics on the bill could not hang out in the green-room as we're accustomed. So we stood in the back hallway discussing how awesome it was that we would be doing a show with Dave Chappelle, yet never really seeing him.
I was the MC last night, and so I opened the show and had a good set — a drunk, late-night crowd waiting to laugh at Chappelle is a fast-ball down the middle of the plate. Then I introduced the next comic on the show. Then the next. As it neared time for the main event, I had to tell the police officers that Chappelle or no Chappelle, I needed to ask the man how he would like to be introduced. This was comedy business, officers, now please allow me to pass. They agreed. I knocked on the door. Chappelle opened it.
"Hey man, sorry to bother you," I said. "I just wanted to know what you want as an intro."
Chappelle looked me over.
"Come on in here, man!"
Chappelle had all the lights off, some candles going. He sat listening to Jay-Z, Kanye West and Wu-Tang on his miniature iPod consul, chain-smoking American Spirits. (I asked him for one.) And then for the next five minutes Dave Chappelle and I sat there in the dark, just the two of us, illuminated by candlelight, bumping hip hop, smoking cigarettes and talking comedy. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Imagine you're a local band and through some bizarre turn of events you get on a show opening for Radiohead and you're fucking psyched and then you get to the show and not only does the show go well, but then Thom Yorke asks you to come hang out and sip some tea with him!
I introduced Chappelle to thunderous applause and then sat with the audience to watch the lanky comic plow through his third show of the night. It wasn't comedy, it was art. For the first half of the set he had people busting their guts, but the second half featured fewer laughs and more profound social commentary. He ripped on the hypocrisy of government, the trappings of fame, all the while shrugging off drunk hecklers as if he didn't have time to deal with them, so urgent was his need to finish what he was talking about. It was the type of stand-up that reminds you that the game is not just dick-jokes and one-nighters in Gillette, Wyoming, it's something far more than that. It was stand-up that reminds you that comedy, when done right, can be one of the most direct ways of telling people how it is, and then telling them to question it. It was Bill Hicks. It was Richard Pryor.
After the show, Chappelle retreated to the green room with several members of his crew, and I knocked on the door one more time to say goodbye.
"Just wanted to say it was a real pleasure working with you," I said. "Oh, pleasure's all mine," Chappelle said humbly. "Hopefully we'll work together again sometime soon."
Hopefully, Dave. Hopefully.
Then I said goodnight to the cops. -- Adam Cayton-Holland