Dave ChappelleAnselmo Valencia Tori Amphitheater, Sunday, Nov. 20
Coming off the massive success of the second season of his eponymous Comedy Central show, Dave Chappelle was Living The Dream, or so his fans (and everyone else) thought. Not since Delirious and Raw bookended the peak of Eddie Murphy's now-irrelevant career has a comic's particular sensibility been so resonant with the culture at large. "I'm Rick James, Bitch!" is still funny, even as it trickles down to those who wouldn't know Rick James if his reanimated corpse was singeing them with a crack pipe. The attendant hyper-fame became the albatross that dragged Chappelle into a very public flakeout, leading to the cancellation of the third season of Chappelle's Show just as Comedy Central was engaged in its biggest-ever promotional campaign, queering a $50 million deal.
Troubles notwithstanding, Chappelle still has a massive fan base; his Nov. 20 performance was sold out long in advance, all the more remarkable because of the impressively high ticket prices that this one man with a microphone can command.
There was a palpable curiosity, fueled by ominous warnings about the consequences of heckling, about how the evening would find our man: Just what the hell is going on with Dave Chappelle now, anyway?
He started out with new material that absolutely slayed. His take on post-connubial masturbation made me laugh hard enough to shake teeth out of my head ("I've had to become a 'jerkoff ninja,' hiding in the shadows, waitin' for that bitch to leave so I could beat off like a man in my living room!"). And per usual, he got lots of mileage out of race humor, liberally peppering the routine with nigger/whitey/Mexican jokes (when he revealed that his mother was half white, he cracked, in whitey voice, "Huh. I like this nigger 25 percent more all of a sudden").
But the majority of his set was merely extended riffing on whatever (extremely juvenile) bullshit crossed his mind, and I've seen him enough to know he can do much better. Certainly, it's impressive that his talents are so towering that he can get a 75-minute performance out of such little actual material, but people will tire of it quickly. Note to Dave: Next time around, no one's gonna pay $70 to hear your extended riff on the "Diarrhea Song."
That said, he's truly a singular comic talent, and it would be an utter shame if he doesn't go back into television or films. Here's hoping the obnoxious demands of fame and celebrity don't deter him from getting back on the horse.