I wrote 650 words on Saturday about “Friday night’s” Dave Chappelle surprise performance, and somehow it got deleted. I still blame WordPress for the snafu, while begrudgingly admitting that due to my mental state after watching five hours of extremely uneven stand-up, user error could very well have been at play. I had a massive Chappelle-hangover on Saturday, like I got in a fight the night before that I lost … badly. I still feel kind of jet-lagged five days later, I’m not going to lie.
My wife and I caught Chappelle’s second show of the evening, after the first show went from sometime around 8 until 10:30. I got in line at 9:45, which means I spent the equivalent of a swing shift at The Independent. For the late show, Chapelle took the stage around 11:45 or so. And after a performance that included a little too much in the way of audience participation, stayed on until 4:30 am. And the guy who’s been in a years-long battle with Dane Cook in a contest to see who could do the longest stand-up performance — Cook is currently in the lead at seven hours — seemed like he could have gone for a lot longer than the near-five hours he went.
I’m going to break the show into sections, because it was like we saw three different shows on Friday night/Saturday morning.
Section 1: The “Oh my God, he’s on fire like MJ’s comeback game at MSG” intro (11:45 – 1:00)
It seems like everyone in San Francisco has seen Dave doing something very San Franciscan. Standing at line at Blue Bottle Coffee, working out at Sports Club LA (as you may have already heard, Chappelle’s absolutely jacked, like he bought LL Cool J’s arms from 1992 off eBay). I’ve seen him twice on Market St. myself in front of The Coffee Bean, about a half-block away from the Four Seasons where he reportedly lives during his frequent stays in the Bay Area.
The first part of Chappelle’s routine — the only prepared part, it seemed — was about San Francisco, and the crowd was laughing consistently and enthusiastically for the better part of a half hour. I was laughing about 98% of the time, especially during an anecdote he told about driving a minivan — with Mos Def in the passenger seat — through the tenderloin. I can’t do the bit justice on a blog, but it definitely came from the same part of his brain that created the character in the photo above.
Section 2: The “crowd gets way too involved” stage (1:00 – 4:00)
First, there was a couple in the middle of the club who wouldn’t shut up. Dave engaged them in a stupid conversation for what seemed like a half hour, but in actuality was probably closer to two minutes. A little later, a blond girl on the right side of the stage about 10 feet away from us asked if she could bum a cigarette (Dave smoked a whole pack of cloves during his set, along with a regular cigarette he found in his pocket near the end of the show). The blond sparked a whole bunch of chirping from the people sitting right by us, and Dave said something like, “What is wrong with you people?”
An Asian girl sitting right next to us, in one of those unnaturally high trying-too-hard-to-be-cute voices, said, “We’re drunk!”
Dave said, “No you aren’t, you aren’t drunk. Drunk off what?”
“No you’re not.”
“Noooo, we’re not…”
Then Dave proceeded to ask the guy next to her if they were together (they were), and Dave told him to get out while he could, because she’s the type of woman who will always make his life miserable, which my wife and I agreed was pretty much hitting it right on the mark. (Dave’s thoughts on relationships all night were unbelievably astute, really, especially a bit he did sometime between 3 and 4 am about how the people we’re with are actually mirrors — that it’s ALWAYS about us.) Not surprisingly, the woman next to us who was called out for being miserable didn’t stay long. Dave asked if she was okay and she said in a much sadder voice (no more trying-to-be-cute) that she was fine, and that, “I know it’s just part of the show.” She then proceeded to whine, “I wanna gooooo,” to her boyfriend for the next ten minutes until they both snuck out of The Independent.
Many people tried to sneak out, but Dave caught most of them. He would stop what he was saying almost every time someone went to the bathroom. The people who left the club got heckled, and some of them heckled Dave right back. Dave craved the conflict. He’d complain about the crowd, and then say, “Any more questions? Peel! Peel!” That was something Chappelle said about 20 times at least. “Peel! Peel!”
He also got a ton of texts, presumably from his manager asking when he’d wrap things up. The Independent’s remaining employees, along with the DJ, were probably wondering the same thing. Every text Dave got, his resolve to keep telling jokes and comment on how bad the audience was got stronger.
Chappelle says he doesn’t drink or smoke weed anymore, and I believe him. His vices these days seem to consist of nicotine, caffeine and bicep curls. He said many times that he doesn’t feel anything anymore, that the world has desensitized him, that nobody can affect him, no matter how many layers they attempted to “peel.” He made several mentions to the $50 million he left on the table, although for all the questions he solicited from the audience nobody asked him exactly why he left “Chappelle Show” and moved to Africa. One got the feeling that while some parts of Chappelle’s life are in order, and that there’s some logical reason(s) why he seems to live near-permanently in a luxury hotel on Market Street. But you also got the feeling that Chappelle regrets a lot of what happened to him after Season 3 of his show started shooting, and it’s left him a very paranoid guy.
But damn, his stamina is absolutely incredible. “Peel! Peel!” We were all too exhausted to peel after last call became a more and more distant memory … or at least I was. Some of the people watching the show from the upstairs baldony or in front of the bar stood the entire time, since there weren’t enough chairs. I wasn’t one of those people, but by 3:30 I started wondering how much longer I could last. After a full workweek and beers consumed that had long since left my system, all that was left was a dull ache in my head that subsided when Chappelle would say something funny every other minute or so.
Between jokes he’d often sit there and bask in the awkward silence before mentioning how he could hear the lights buzzing or moving around, the air conditioning, an empty dixie cup getting knocked over… And then Dave would say, “Anything else? Peel!” and people would ask him stuff. Some people in the crowd kept asking him about stuff Chappelle talked about in prior shows, like Barry Bonds and Somali pirates, and Dave didn’t seem interested. He was more interested in pinpointing things to make fun of in the crowd, and that kept him (and us) entertained for a good portion of the night.
Section 3: This is the end… (4:00 – 4:30)
Once it got past 4 am, most of the crowd was completely delirious. Still, Dave begged us to, “Peel! Peel!” The conversation devolved into some far-fetched fantasy where the next afternoon (9 hours later), Dave was going to go on a ride in his new Ducati with a bunch of other motorcycle owners in the crowd. They were going to go to Santa Cruz, but only after they met in Golden Gate Park and played touch football first. Or after meeting up with some guy who drives a school bus in his spare time at Ocean Beach. I don’t know, I checked out because I knew neither myself nor my wife would have the energy the next afternoon to pretend a guy who thinks he should be making $25 million a year wants to hang out with us.
This isn’t to say it wasn’t a fantastic show. It was. Including time spent in line, we spent 7 hours at The Independent, and I’ll wear that like an invisible badge of honor for the rest of my days. And at least we live a half block away from the club and were able to get to sleep around 5 am. Also, many of the members of the crowd who were annoying got deservedly shot down by Chappelle, especially the guy who said he thinks Barack Obama’s job is to, “Make people happy and protect the country.” (Chappelle performed about 40 hours before it was announced that Osama Bin Laden was killed.) The fact that Dave didn’t suffer all the fools in the crowd lightly was definitely a bonus. One guy in the crowd kept dozing off, which became something fun for Chappelle to focus on between 4 and 4:15 am (I think).
And while I make it a habit not to believe I really know the true personality of any celebrity, particularly one who’s ever acted for a living, Chappelle seems like a really decent guy. Really honest, anyway. Extremely over-analytical and bitter, with the requisite pain and anger to still be a great stand-up comedian, but still somehow extremely relatable even though he’s probably spent more money than all the show’s attendees have made in our lives … combined. There’s absolutely no doubt that the guy can still fire off the best HBO comedy special of the year if he wanted to prepare enough material, but I don’t know if he knows what he wants to do. He mentioned that he didn’t want to do “network” TV, because you don’t have any control. For now, he’d rather test out a few jokes, then engage in a battle of wills with audiences. If he beats Dane Cook’s record, or someone peels enough layers to get him to feel something, Chappelle earns more from his standup appearances than whatever percentage he makes off $55/ticket.