Posted April 6, 2017
By MICHAEL FRANCA
Dave Chappelle is back after a decade-long hiatus. The legendary comedian who infamously quit “The Chappelle Show” in 2005 returned to the big stage with two Netflix stand-up specials released on March 21, 2017.
In the first of the two specials, “The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at The Hollywood Palladium,” he shows that the time away has not diminished his sense of what the audience might enjoy.
Chappelle, now 43, quickly establishes that his unique wit and creativity are still as potent as they were at the peak of his career. What also returns are his fearless boundary-testing habits. Chappelle freely explores territory that few other public figures feel comfortable exploring and he does so in his signature conversational manner. This is what gives him the freedom to broach controversial persons like O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby.
Still, Chappelle’s jokes in his newest television venture will surely irk some viewers for what can be considered insensitivity. This should be expected, though, as the opening dialogue (aptly voiced by Morgan Freeman) states “this is Dave, he tells dirty jokes for a living.”
Referencing the opening shot of Chappelle staring into the distance, Freeman says that “the trance” signals “the alchemist fire that transforms fear and tragedy into levity and livelihood.”
This immediately sets the tone for the kind of jokes he tells throughout the duration of the TV-MA rated show. Not only does he lightheartedly mention Cosby and Simpson, but he also jokes about rape and the LGBTQ community.
For example, he toes the line of acceptability when he uses a slur to describe homosexual actions in prison. He also seems to openly acknowledge being somewhat uncomfortable with transgenderism. But perhaps the greatest testament to Chappelle’s charm is how comfortable he can appear while covering these uncomfortable topics.
At some point during the delivery of each of these controversial jokes he shows clear empathy for the subjects of the punchlines, including his own identification as a feminist. He ties it in by stating that he shares their plight as a black man and member of the “Discrimination Olympics.”
Some of the best material from this set actually comes from Chappelle discussing issues of race. In the early moments of the show he tells the story of the time he and a friend were pulled over for driving while intoxicated.
While doing so he manages to turn the tension black men feel when pulled over by the police into genuine lighthearted humor. He also hysterically talks about “comparative suffering” between black people, women, and Jewish people in a way that somehow manages to charismatically mock their very real suffering.
These just serve as more proof that Chappelle showcases his strengths during conversations about serious matters, even if his observations aren’t quite as sharp as they were when he set the bar on “The Chappelle Show” a decade ago.
The most significant portions of the show, however, still revolve around Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson. He peppers the show with intermittent stories of the four times he met Simpson, and fittingly closes the show with a beautifully crafted tie-in joke about Cosby.
Chappelle somehow approaches these two infamous characters with a fresh angle, which would seem to be a challenge considering the extensive coverage both have received in recent years. He highlights their humanity by pointing out the many good deeds Cosby did for the black community, as well as referring to Simpson as one of the nicest people he ever met.
Chappelle then pokes fun at these humanized versions of the villainous figures and acknowledges the atrocities they have been accused of committing. This makes for a truly distinctive set of jokes; one that no other could produce.
Chappelle demonstrates his versatility by tackling lighter subjects, too. His self-deprecation in regards to his fame, money and selfishness is admirable for its humanity as much as its humor.
It fits into what makes Dave Chappelle the icon that he is: his individuality. Not many comedians can seamlessly transition from the varying levels of sensitivity of his subject matter the way he does. Even when he seems to cross the line and offend some, he remains a genuine human being. Chappelle’s return to the national stage confirms to the public that he is still one of the world’s best comedians, despite his lengthy absence.
- “The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at The Hollywood Palladium”
- Content Rating: TV-MA
- Netflix Special
- Star: Dave Chappelle
- Run time: 67 minutes
- Release Date: March 21, 2017
- My Rating: A-