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Chappelle’s Vegas return finds him at his insightful best

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Dave Chappelle, performing May 5 at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Photo: Bryan Steffy for Mandalay Bay
Jason Harris

Four and a half stars

Dave Chappelle May 5, Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Any question as to whether Dave Chappelle is all the way back were answered resoundingly Friday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center. It wasn’t a perfect set—is there such a thing? If so, does anybody want that?—but Chappelle reminded us why he’s in the conversation with Bruce, Carlin, Pryor, Seinfeld, Rock, C.K. and whomever else might be on your Mount Rushmore of comedy.

The night opened with Chappelle’s tour DJ, Trauma, spinning hits to jack up the crowd of more than 18,000. From there, Chappelle’s two openers did 15 minutes each (be on the lookout for Mo Amer, who smashed). Michael Buffer, the famous ring announcer, introduced Chappelle as he would any champion—even riffing on a Buffer catchphrase, “For the thousands in attendance and the millions who wish to f*ck they could be here”—and then Chappelle strutted down the aisle with “trainers” in fight robes. That, my friends, is how you make an entrance and turn a show into a spectacle.

This Chappelle is different from the one who stopped by with the touring Oddball Festival in 2013, when it felt like he was regaining his footing, in some cases defending his actions—turning down a reported $50 million from Comedy Central and taking a sojourn to South Africa—more than creating comedy from them. This Chappelle seems as comfortable as ever, reclaiming the stage and his brand.

He opened by remembering his recently departed friend, Chappelle’s Show costar Charlie Murphy. Chappelle recalled how Murphy changed his life with just one sentence as the two were eating lunch: “I fought Rick James on many occasions.”

From there, Chappelle went right in on the Facebook Shooter, explaining that he was in Cleveland making jokes about it while the suspect was still at large. Of its “too soon” nature, he compared it to the time he told 9/11 jokes on 9/12 in New York City.

He spoke of hosting Saturday Night Live just after November’s presidential election—and imploring the audience to give Trump a chance. “I made a terrible mistake,” he said. And then, on concerns the president will get us into a war with North Korea: “Trump’s never been to a Korean grocer. He doesn’t know how dangerous those motherf*ckers are.”

Chappelle’s insight into socioeconomic and racial differences sets him apart from his peers. He brought up Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who identifies as black and claims to be “transracial.” Chappelle wondered, if she feels that way on the outside, how far she’s willing to go on the inside. “Are you willing to refinance your house so you can invest in a mixtape that might not be hot?”

Of the hypocrisy of the Muslim travel ban—considering 13 recent mass shooting incidents in America were carried out by white men—Chappelle observed, “You don’t see me banning white dudes from my show to the keep the rest of my audience safe. ... It would be catastrophic for my bottom line.”

Not everything hit with that thunder. His closing bit—about the woman who accused Emmett Till of whistling at her, which ultimately jump-started the Civil Rights Movement—made a loose connection back to Trump: Terrible things can have good outcomes.

Concerns over the performance’s relatively short length (55 minutes) were easily outweighed by Chappelle’s many home runs. This was the best I’ve seen him since Killin’ Them Softly, the 2000 special that cemented him as one of the most important comedians of his time. Welcome back, Dave. All the way back.

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