By Daniel Reif
When Dave Chappelle stepped onto the stage of the Hollywood Paladium in June 2015, the crowd seemed to compensate for a decade of missed cheers. The emphatic roar was emphatically proper for a legend. A roar for a generational voice. A roar to renew that voice. Unfortunately, that roar could not be met with the proper energy. Before the (then) 41-year old comic could grab the mic or bellow a word, a louder reminder presents- the man ain’t young anymore.
Age knots the tie between both stand-up specials- Age of Spin: Live at the Hollywood Paladium; Deep in the Heart of Texas: Live at Austin City Limits– released in Netflix’s first edition in an intended Chappelle re-renaissance to encompass multiple releases in 2017. The former Comedy Central superstar is a master self-pooper (cue ‘diiiiiiarhea’), and he’s not pretending to start from where he left off in 2004. An entire history of time has unfolded since the final frame rolled on his coveted special at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. A new pillar of American identity and political awareness has shaped a generation of artists and cultural topics. A well-covered media blizzard blew up the confounding personal life he meant to hide as the times changed. So the material must find him in this change if he is to recapture the crutching laughter that propelled his penchant for off-color self and social thought to original stardom. The man will adapt, but as hints of knee-locked legs undercut the praising welcome of hundreds of fans of all ages, rust feels a crank in the long-awaited return to craft.
Your heart beats. Dave’s heart must. “Sit down. Get comfortable.” Simple, sweet. After 3 decades of work, the comedic magnet is still here to serve; entertain; detach us from the world outside. Hearts ease.
It’s been awhile. The Chappelle Show star’s first words are smart custom, but vocal massaging is unnecessary if we are to forget the world outside. All eyes are on his every breath, and in recognition, but no rush, he lets us into untouched memories. Stories of a Detroit fail and a successful highway pullover (humorously unsuccessful for his buddy involved) provide cute insight into Dave’s life and celebrity during career pause.
The mischief is structured soundly. Whether reflecting on sketchy limo excursions to the hood (Killin’ Them Softly. Washington DC, 2000.) or explicit bus rides in youth (For What it’s Worth. SF, ’04), Dave Chappelle is expert when a personal fable arrises. Like those fame-cementing stories of past specials, you are sucked into colorful anecdotes well unfolded.
Unlike them, the punchlines don’t pound intestines. The opening detours click in concept, but not in comment. Homosexual superheroes and controversial athletes lay track for a vacant train ride of yesterday ideas and observations. Physical reserve mirrors stale follow-through throughout the Hollywood episode. No moment ever surpasses the high of his arrival.
Recorded a year later, Austin medicates the growing pains. A cool denim collar emanates a cold-blue cool. A big smile for big confidence. The man is back in the zone and the writing is focused.
Though a Santa Fe ribbing mires the type of amateur audience engagement Dave should trash, the comedy shouldn’t be canned. Naming Michael Jackson’s murderer “Dr. Butterfingers” and riffing on Donald Sterling’s “historical” dick levy the luster of the past episode’s yawning cultural analyses.
To irk, the veteran’s riffs still build the Paladium fat of lesser talent. In Austin’s first half, we only find heartier laughs out of cheap observational stuffings. There is a zone, but that zone evolves the second special into a stronger, more evident performance standard: personal intimacy.
Mid-way through, Chappelle pulls a rabbit for a present-day comedian- takes a breather and calls out the crowd for a cig. ‘Woos’ and smokes fly before silence befalls the single rip of a lighter. Hey, it’s Texas. And don’t blame Texas for handing us what we pined for: a pleasant moment with the person under the performer.
The light touch (pun intended) relieves us the freest mood. Dave, a natural, eases us into Dave, the usual. Family is finally the fun and your tension will retreat to the trenches in eye-watering escapades about Mayweather/Pacquiao fights with his Filipino wife, son’s surprising school fight and buddying up with lesbian parents. A cherry tops in a photo album of laughter.
13 years since its tumultuous early finish, Chappelle Show remains syndicated across the world. (Created alongside co-writer/exec producer Neil Brennan) Dave Chappelle’s landmark 22-minute sketch episodic continues to write the legacy of a real voice in social and political conscience.
DC, Fillmore, and a life behind the mic write a different story. Netflix’s first Dave Chappelle installment ends on the truly unrivaled continuum to why Chappelle is a legend in standup— his real life (how ever colored it may be) is his comic nirvana. You could’ve called the double-bill a comeback… if nirvana spoke sooner.
(Hollywood, 2015) Written and Performed by Dave Chappelle; Directed by Stan Lathan – (Austin, 2016) Written/Performed by Chappelle; Directed by Lathan – 2017 – Netflix – 2hr 13m (total)
March 28, 2017
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