As the sun nearly refused to rise on Sunday morning here in Eugene, I had no idea that I would end up seeing comedian Dave Chappelle’s performance at the McDonald Theater later that night. Nor did I have the slightest inkling that I would actually get to meet the man face-to-face walking the streets of downtown Eugene. Perhaps, it appeared that Chappelle had no idea that he was going to perform here till a few days before Friday at 2pm, when 750 tickets were sold out in 30 minutes (the fastest sell-out ever for the McDonald). I was one of the lucky few who had the opportunity to catch the comedy legend last night and I was chomping at the bit to see what kind of new material he would unveil after what seemed like an 8-year hiatus.
There have been Chappelle sightings here and there, but he has remained a very elusive artist, keeping a low profile and a residence on an Ohio farm, far from the comedic bright lights of the major cities. Chappelle, whose formal career in comedy started at the age of fourteen, has challenged his audience over the years to look at race relations, nonsensical human flaws, relationship issues and more recently, the pitfalls of fame and the societal imbalance that we face as a nation. It’s all done in a way that is side-splitting in its hilarity and never heavy-handed in its tactics. His delivery stings you simultaneously with laughter and an important message about who we are as humans. He is a consummate people-watcher and it’s these observations that make his material profoundly relevant in an age of social media and 24/7 news feeds.
The show started at 9:00 with opening comedian Nathan Brannon doing a 15 minute set to an already lively audience. Then came the main event. Chappelle started his 2 hour set with his observations of the Eugene demographic, commenting on weed, hippies and how Eugene is the only place where “a bluegrass singer could get head backstage”. His set seemed to have a few canned elements but primarily, his improv skills were on showcase and he worked off the audience for most of his material. This is where his years of live stand-up would come into play. He alternated between manic confidence and occasional awkward lull, smoking cigarettes nearly the entire set. The crowd ate every bit of it up; cheering, laughing and occasionally adding fuel to his stage fire. Inevitably, the ghosts and lines of his wildly popular “Chappelle’s Show” past showed up during his set, in which he addressed to the crowd that he was now, ”Rick James proof”.
His recent work seems to address his departure from the neon glow of show business and how the trappings of fame are fleeting and hollow. From recent interviews, he appears to be a man spooked by the prospect of media and fan scrutiny and the scarier elements of notoriety. Ultimately, he seems that he still loves doing comedy as an outlet and as a therapeutic means to work through a life with very little anonymity. His audience still appreciates this and the 30 minute sell-out proves it. Last night’s show felt like something historic, from a comedic genius in line with the greats; George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and pre-Donkey Eddie Murphy. His professionalism in his craft and his quick wit still make him a force to be reckoned with. His sharp commentary has continued to stay relevant and the laughs keep coming. Only time will tell how the story will end for him.
I don’t believe that we’ve seen the last of Dave Chappelle. He seems like a comedian who’s still unwilling to compromise his ideals and his audience seems to appreciate his ability to do just that.
Marshall Falcon produces local bands, as well as a popular Youtube series, “Live At Roadrunner Studios” You can check out his band The Big Small at http://www.reverbnation.com/thebigsmallmusic and don’t miss out on the live series:http://www.youtube.com/user/TheRoadrunnerStudios/videos?view=0