with updates Dave Chappelle is hilarious of course, but he’s also contemplative. He’s up there for me with Jerry Seinfeld, unique in his ability to poke fun at himself, at ourselves, get a little ever so raunchy, and still be profound.
So luckily I caught one of his rare gigs last night at the Cutting Room on East 32nd St. He was warming up for three nights this week at the much larger Gramercy Theater. But he’ll also be back at the Cutting Room Wednesday trying out new material before heading for London.
His management asked the Cutting Room to keep the room small, so the famed venue closed the doors that separate the front room from the bar area. And Chappelle did a little over an hour that someone should have filmed for posterity.
But guess what? Chappelle doesn’t allow cell phones or cameras in the house. Guests must put their phones in a little sealed bag that’s locked for the duration of the show. That’s why you don’t see YouTube flooded with unlicensed videos. At one point during the gig, the comic himself wanted to look something up on his phone, then told the audience: “I can’t. I don’t have my phone either.”
He began the hour by saying, quite jovially: “This will be a racist show. I’m telling you now.” His jokes about blacks and white were evenly divided. But the subjects of the day were right up there. “Black lives matter is a terrible slogan,” he said. “It’s like naming gum ‘Chewy.’ It’s obvious.” He much prefers Dwayne Wade’s hashtag “enough is enough.”
As for the killing of Wade’s cousin, and Donald Trump’s immediate vulgarizing of it, Chappelle said: “Oh yeah, now I’m voting for Donald Trump.” That drew peals of laughter from the mixed race crowd. But I couldn’t help wonder what black comics and their audiences are saying around the country in similar clubs. Trump’s message–“What do you have to lose?”–is now a set up for various punchlines.
Chappelle talked about wanting to vote for Hillary Clinton. He also touched on the very recent stabbing at Cornell. Is it too soon? “Who stabs anymore?” he added: “Very OJ.”
What Chappelle is looking for in people is empathy. “When did it become just caring about ourselves and not caring about other people?” he asked rhetorically. Empathy becomes his key word, and he weaves it through some outrageous and mildly raunchy passages.
Chappelle told me that Wednesday’s show would reflect what worked and didn’t tonight– although most everything did. “I love this place,” he said of the Cutting Room. “It’s like working in a jazz club.”