Yoshi’s is an intimate jazz club and Dave Chappelle seems perfect for the small venue addressing the crowd like a riffing’ improviser, more like a jazz performer than a standup.
(Dave Chappelle, in action previously)
You won’t have to rely on a Jumbo-tron to get the full Chappelle at a place like Yoshi’s, made for Chappelle’s laid-back, raw style, and an occasional flash of comic brilliance.
Currently, he’s easily in the top three or four comedy acts in the U.S., a short list that would include Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Aziz Ansari. Then Chappelle? Or Chappelle first? Jim Gaffigan in there? (For my money, yes). Chappelle’s four Oakland general admission shows this week sold out in hours for $65 a pop. Ducats ended up on StubHub for more than $200 each. That’s standard these days for a top act like Chappelle.
By his own admission, he’s been on a two year tour since his return after walking away from his $50 million dollar Comedy Central show deal. And he’s banking as much as he can now.
So the live show in Oakland will be a mixed bad. Some rehearsed jokes. Some riffs off the news. A lot of crowd work. A lot of it. If you think crowd work is filler, and horseplay, then catch him free on YouTube.
At Yoshi’s, Chappelle was heavy on the crowd work: “You from Iran? Good luck with your nuclear program;” Another moment, Chappelle in his white voice to a well- dressed tech hipster in the crowd, “How’s the software going?”; When a train in Jack London Square could be heard, Chappelle turned that moment into gold: “A train whistle in Downtown Oakland…Seriously, this is like 1850s…I should get like 12 bikers together and we should rob a train!” Chappelle’s interplay between the jokes and the crowd is like watching a master mixer, an artist at work.
The live show isn’t canned and there’s its charm.
With Chappelle, there’s that ever-present sense of danger.
On Tuesday, Chappelle came out riffing on Cosby, the man whom he has called the reason he wanted to be a comedian from a very young age. Got to say, I remember listening to all the records myself as a young Catholic Filipino hearing the words, “Noah, how long can you tread water.”
Chappelle immediately starts surfing the crowd for laughs, beginning with his hero’s rape story. “Allegedly!” he cried out. “Allegedly…34 allegations…is….a lot….Still, man probably only raped 13 or 14 girls…. Raping girls with placebos….I don’t know if I believe it. I don’t know. What’s the point of f***ing a sleeping girl? Nothing? (laugh) This is the kind of thing you’re not supposed to say out loud but come on everybody, it’s kind of late on a Tuesday (it was around 1:20 a.m.) It’s not actually a bad question. What is the fun of f****** a sleeping girl?”
“I don’t know if I believe it. I don’t know. What’s the point of fucking a sleeping girl? Because if it’s good, I’m going to tell my wife,’ I’m going to f*** with you while you’re sleeping, is that cool?’”
And yes, that was the clean stuff.
I usually get upset hearing jokes about Asians. And Chappelle made comments about Malaysia Airlines losing a plane, and China losing planes. And it led to another yet another “bad Asian driver” joke:
“You can’t drive on the ground is one thing. But there’s a lot of room in the sky.” He didn’t have to go there. But he was on the offensive. It popped into his head.
No one was safe. Not even Pope Francis and his recent comments on homosexuality.
Chappelle: “He said, ‘Who are we to judge? You the pope, nigger.”
Next, up, Terrence Howard and the Fox TV hit “Empire,” commenting on the prominence of gays in show biz.
“You can tell the writers are gay because the gay characters are the most functional,” he said. “All of the sudden being gay and black are being heroic. All problems don’t come from being black but being gay.”
Chappelle then leans in as if whispering: “It’s not hard to be gay in show business, it’s actually easier that way.”
Then revealing the punch: If I had the courage to suck a d**k I’d be a lot further….”
It was one of his biggest laughs of the night.
You allow the political incorrectness as a way of getting to the truth.
You figure at a 1 a.m. show of one of the world’s top comedians, you’re going to get edge.
Still, there was one black woman with a tiara, who Chappelle couldn’t help but engage.
He was drawn to her, he said. That she was a lesbian brought on a fist pump from Chappelle who identified with her, ahem, M.O. But eventually Chappelle crossed the line and when the talk turned to glory holes and tranny anal, and well the woman with the tiara required kid glove treatment.
This is where Chappelle revealed a real sense of surprising heart and intimacy. You figure to get some combined with your penis jokes.
But anal sex with a tranny?
“Trying to get some parameters,” said Chappelle while still getting laughs. “I’m telling jokes. I feel sexual energy coming from you …I’m sorry I don’t mean no disrespect.”
The show continued and became the highlight of the show, because indeed, why not a glory hole?
“Is this crass? Chappelle asked. “I don’t mean to shock. Should I be more eloquent in my description.
What if there was a crevice?”
He kept going, then he went in for the finish. In a night of titters, it was a big moment of truth.
“Do not be offended by my jokes. I have the utmost respect for you and choices you make for yourself,” he said. Then in a throwback to all the past comic heroes, notably guys like Lenny Bruce, he says: “I don’t mean to overstep any boundaries. These are just mere words. Words are nothing but the best for its intentions. I will boldly control what I mean. The truth is what I said was funny because it was mean. I didn’t say it because it was mean. I said it because it was funny.”
“I’m sure in my heart of heart my intentions were good. Please forgive me,” said Chappelle. “I made some crass reference about ejaculating into a tiara. I just said it because it was funny.”
Crass and grace. Equals art? Chappelle’s fans ate it up. The woman stayed.
Free speech is dangerous, sometimes funny at 2 a.m. in the morning, as Tuesday turns to Wednesday in Oakland and the train whistle blows.
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