Comedian Dave Chappelle returned to the spotlight in the 15-city Funny or Die Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Tour. On Thursday night at a stop in Hartford, Conn., Chappelle received less than a friendly reception back to the spotlight.
According to initial reports by USA Today:
“There was some booing and yelling, then Chappelle spent several minutes sitting on the stage smoking a cigarette before finally just leaving.
“He sat on a stool making comments about the situation and responding to hecklers until the end of what apparently was his contractually mandated time on stage. Chappelle apparently told the audience he needed to do only about 25 minutes to get paid.”
Lesli-Ann Lewis, a writer for Ebony.com, attended the show and wrote a lengthy piece absolving Chappelle of reports that he suffered a meltdown. Read it in full below:
“‘I’ve been up here a while now and I thought it was me but now I ‘m sure it’s you. There is definitely something wrong with you.’ he told us. In other words, ‘shut up and let me perform.’ Not many did. Finally, he gave up and took his cigarettes and his water and sat on stage.”
The crowd got worse. People were booing, jeering. I heard a woman yell something that was drowned out by a guy near me screaming ‘DAVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEE’ for the umpteenth time. But Dave hears her. ‘Times like this, I wonder where Katt Williams is.’
He sips his water and stares at us meaningfully. There is a hush. The jeers begin again. When he decided he would not be doing the show, he responded to a voice in the crowd: “I’m going to have to read about this sh** for months.”
And he will—and none of them will be fair. They will include bare facts; At the Hartford show, Dave Chappelle did sit down and read an excerpt from an audience member’s book. At the Hartford show, Dave Chappelle did give the crowd the middle finger and tell us that we sucked (‘You are booing yourself. I want you to go home and look in the mirror and say “boo,” that’s how I feel about you.’)
Chappelle wasn’t having a meltdown. This was a Black artist shrugging the weight of white consumption, deciding when enough was enough.
This isn’t the first time Chappelle has done so and it isn’t the first time his behavior has been characterized as a meltdown. There is a long history of asking African-Americans to endure racism silently; it’s characterized as grace, as strength.
Chappelle’s Connecticut audience, made up of largely young, white males, demanded a shuck and jive. Men who seemed to have missed the fine satire of the Chappelle Show, demanded he do characters who, out of the context of the show, look more like more racist tropes than mockery of America’s belief in them.
When he expressed shock that he’d sat there and had been yelled at for so long, people yelled that they had paid him. They felt paying for a show meant they could verbally harass him, direct him in any tone of voice, as though they’d bought him.
After his first ‘meltdown,’ Chapelle said he left his show because he wasn’t sure if he was being laughed with or at. Seeing him walk off that stage last night, I think he’d decided on the answer. They had been missing his message, they weren’t laughing with him. And I’m glad to see that in Connecticut, he had the courage to laugh back.”