Comedian Dave Chappelle made a surprise appearance last month at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory. The former star of Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show has become known of late for impromptu standup appearances. But unlike the routine savvy comic we remember, Chappelle spent four and a half hours onstage smoking a dozen cigarettes, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze.
Watching the self-ostracized Chappelle rediscover the stage allows for a strangely candid look at a brilliant, yet jaded, man.
“This is weird, right?” Chappelle asks people seated in the front row. “You feel it too, right?”
Yeah, Dave, we all feel it. The same man who brought us Tyrone Biggums and ran out on a $50 million paycheck stopped by simply to hang out — a little out of the ordinary in my book. Sporting a red-plaid lumberjack shirt, white Nike sneaks and slightly frayed jeans, he covers everything from politics to religion.
Dave Chappelle just wants to talk.
So, we discuss his celebrity crush, Jessica Alba, and his favorite part of fatherhood: having someone to talk to. He tells us about his “crack-free” trip to Africa, Kanye West and Obama. No routine, no punch lines, and no Rick James.
For Robin Williams and other big-time comics, returning to standup is coming home. This could be a performance celebrating Chappelle’s return to his roots after a fruitful Hollywood career. But to Chappelle, it is something entirely different — it’s rehab. It’s a chance to open up his world to strangers and refamiliarize himself with the spotlight.
Still, considering his extended hiatus from show business, Chappelle has no trouble earning laughs throughout the night. But he uses his time more to share some introspection than to tell jokes. He comments on the difficulty of knowing people’s true opinions and admits his own naïveté when dealing with the entertainment industry in the past. Discussing being “used” and quoting religious texts, he philosophizes on the power and intention of words.
Cynically, he continues describing his past. But what everyone is really wondering about is his future — has Chappelle scheduled his illustrious return? Not inclined to share what is on his horizon, Chappelle avoids answering that question. When someone asks what America ultimately has to do to bring Dave Chappelle back, Dave Chappelle laughs.
“You guys think just because I don’t want to be on TV right now, that I’m crazy,” he says.
If it hadn’t become clear, the comic isn’t exactly eager to be back in the limelight. Instead, he talks about escaping.
“That’s what America would have to do,” Chappelle finally responds. “Get me to space and back safely, and then we’ll talk Chappelle’s Show. ... Just go out and get off of this Earth for a while.”
As he rounds out the fourth hour onstage, it becomes increasingly evident what this performance is — an escape. Only about 10 of us remain as Chappelle lingers onstage and lights another cigarette. He stays long enough for us to forget that he is Dave Chappelle. For now, to everyone in the room, he is just Dave. For a moment, he has escaped his celebrity; Dave is in space.
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Perhaps justifying the absurdity of the night, Dave closes by commenting on how we were all collectively part of “something.”
“Even if the lyrics of the evening won’t stick,” he says, “the feeling will.”
He is right. Walking out of the Laugh Factory at 4 in the morning, we all know we could feel something surreal. We got a chance to see the real Dave Chappelle, and how he has matured. We got to know Dave.
And yeah, it was weird.