Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Show at Radio City Music Hall: Review

Dave Chappelle Radio City Music Hall - P 2014
Brad Barket /Invision/AP

Dave Chappelle Radio City Music Hall - P 2014

Chappelle doesn't shy away from addressing his controversies in his hilarious return to stand-up comedy

The formerly reclusive comedian continues his comeback with the first of nine shows at the New York venue.

“It’s the shittiest comeback in the history of show business,” declared Dave Chappelle shortly into his opening-night performance at Radio City Music Hall, the first of an impressive nine-show run that later included guest appearances from the likes of Nas, the Roots, Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu. But as he demonstrated in his frequently hilarious 95-minute set, that joke was far from the truth.

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The comedian — who abandoned his hugely successful Comedy Central show in 2005 and entered into years of virtual seclusion — has returned to stand-up with a vengeance … sometimes literally so, as when he famously walked offstage during a Hartford, Conn., show after being heckled. He still clearly bears some scars from the event, as evidenced by the many signs warning patrons that they would be ejected from the premises for any unruly behavior and his description of what it’s like to hate 30,000 people all at once.

Chain-smoking through the performance — at one point he bummed a cigarette from an audience member — Chappelle frankly addressed the topic of his departure from his show, commenting that “David Letterman put the screws to me the other night” and lamenting that “I forgot that my boss owns a large portion of the media.”

“I’m just back earning enough money to disappear again,” he declared. Addressing the topic of whether he would ever bring back his TV show, he said that it would “happen right after Half Baked 2, referring to his 1998 screen comedy.

“If you ever see Half Baked 2, you’ll know I’m completely out of money,” he joked.

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Delivering his eclectic material in a laconic, laid-back style that featured him barely moving from his staked-out, center stage position, Chappelle wowed the wildly enthusiastic crowd with elaborate bits about Donald Sterling, Paula Deen, Rob Ford and Barack Obama. Referring to the former, he commented, “In America, there’s an 80-year-old white man with racist tendencies … didn’t see that coming” before launching into a hilarious routine imagining Sterling addressing his team before the leak of his infamous audiotape. He described hiring the newly unemployed Deen as his personal chef and making her dress up like Aunt Jemima.

More than he’s done in the past, he delved into material involving marriage and fatherhood, saying that after 10 years of marriage “there’s nothing left to say” and commenting, “The only time I jerk off is when my wife slips up and tells me how long he’s she’s leaving the house.” Regarding his children, he pointed out, “I got two sons — one’s in private school, one’s in public school. It’s an experiment. ...I  just want to see what’s gonna happen.”

Although far from the dirtiest of comics, he didn’t refrain from launching into raunchier material, spinning a rap song lyric, “Beat the p— up.” into a surreal bit about a boxing match with female genitalia. And he commented that he had written at least 50 jokes with the punchline “pussy juice,” providing samples of several of them.

He demonstrated his quick wit during several spontaneous exchanges with audience members, including one couple who had shouted out their appreciation. After finding out that they had been dating for seven years, he advised, “Take your time, buddy, just ease into it,” before adding, “Seven years is a like a Shawshank sentence.”

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Not all of the material scored, and there were times when the comic seemed uncharacteristically less than self-assured. The pacing lagged at times, and the show ended rather abruptly after he realized that he had passed the 11 p.m. mark. But there’s no denying that he’s still one of the most incisive, provocative comedians in the business. Let’s hope that he sticks around for a while this time.

Veteran Washington, D.C. comic Tony Woods delivered a short, crowd-pleasing set to open the show after being introduced by Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton, who also provided an amusing F-bomb-laden video warning audience members to, among other things, refrain from using their cell phones during the show.