By Matthew Odam
Nevermind what you feared, Dave Chappelle is back and on top of his game.
When his two Netflix specials dropped recently, some worried Chappelle might not be keeping up with the times. There were tone-deaf jokes about the transgender community and rape. Those subjects aren’t off-limits in stand-up comedy, but Chappelle’s jokes weren’t worthy of the triggering. They didn’t enlighten or enliven the societal conversation. Referencing a line Chappelle told Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” recently, they didn’t highlight an “irreconcilable moment of paradox.”
With those imperfect advertisements, some may have been skeptical about Chappelle’s form. But those sets were almost two years old (the Austin shows edited into episode two were from April 2015). Chappelle proved at his Wednesday night late show, amidst a sold-out weeklong run at ACL Live, that he’s as sharp as ever.
He didn’t walk close to the fire from his Netflix specials, instead rallying the crowd from the moment he took the stage. Chappelle proved he is a uniter, not a divider. And nothing brings us together quite like comedy.
His jokes weren’t uncomfortable but he didn’t play it safe, as the self-proclaimed feminist proved with a self-aware bit about how the feminist movement needed a man in charge, a joke that required a deft touch and a strong sense of absurdist vulnerability
Chappelle made news earlier this year with his great “Saturday Night Live” monologue, which aggravated and moved people with his call to give Donald Trump a chance. But, Chappellehas pumped his breaks on that one. The living legend said he had made a mistake with that plea. Trump has fallen apart and can’t do anything right, Chappelle said to raucous and relieved consensus.
The comedian suffered a train-wreck of fan interference when he visited the Paramount in 2012, when he was just starting to take swings on big stages again, but he rolled with the few interruptions and created a few of his own Wednesday night, embracing fans, not alienating or shaming them. He delivered watermelon juice to one audience member for her cocktail and sent another couple tequila shots. The relationship between performer and audience was made tighter by the lack of cell phones. On entering, attendees had to put their phones in sealed pouches that were unlocked on exiting, an awesome touch that meant no glowing phones, no selfies, no shots of Chappelle, and, the main reason, no recording. It was a touch that gave the night a retro feel, tripping back to when community was less disrupted and more organic. I would love to see the policy at every concert, movie and performing arts show.