At midnight on June 19th Dave Chappelle informed the management of Austin’s Paramount Theater that he’d be performing 21 hours later as he passed through town on a motorcycle trip. Tickets went on sale at 9:30 in the morning and were gone within 45 minutes; snatched up by 1200 Austinites who were cool enough to have the inside scoop and lucky enough to get through on the phone or online.
His DJ opened the show for 90 grueling minutes and the first act up warned the crowd twice that they’d be kicked out for heckling Dave. He walked into the nearly 100 year old theater and announced that it looked just like the Apollo except that it was packed with white people. The crowd roared. Things looked promising. Instantly his cell phone rang and people encouraged him to answer the call. He said no, it was one of his gangster friends and he wasn’t going to have a gangster conversation in front of everyone. Someone shouted for him to send a text and Dave quipped, “Gangsters don’t text.” The crowd went wild.
Ten minutes into the show he called out a guy in the front for recording the show on his iPhone 4s. Dave took the phone away from him to thunderous applause. He chatted with Siri as they laughed hysterically. Security came to escort the guy away and Dave said, “No, don’t kick him out. They won’t kick him out. I’ve got some pull. We’ll get him back in here. He won’t miss anything; I’ve only got four minutes of material.”
It wasn’t far from the truth.
It’s understandable that Dave Chappelle doesn’t want and doesn’t have to play by comedy’s conventional rules: write some new material and take it on tour. He reasoned: “I could sit down and write material like Kevin Hart. I could do that but then one of you is going to YouTube it and then what? Nobody wants to come to the show. When was the last time you bought a bootlegged Kevin Hart tape?”
He showed up in Austin with less than 30 minutes of jokes, likely thinking he’d get enough from the crowd to improv his way through the rest of the night. His mistake was in coming to a town that’s been on the Coolest Places To Live lists for ten years too long. 2% of the crowd was hellbent on ruining the show for everyone else with their requests, outbursts, insults, shout-outs to Texas pride, and random pig squeals. Dave’s long pauses, water breaks, and cigarette drags caused him to lose control of the audience fifteen minutes into the night and he never got them back. The 2% had taken over.
“This crowd is letting me know that I need to make another movie so you can get some fresh heckles,” he said. “You’re heckling me with 1997 dialogue.”
The problem with Dave’s work is that it transcended his original fan base so much that when he comes to Texas, rednecks and obnoxious hipsters snatch up tickets just so that they can say they saw Dave Chappelle once in their lives. They’re not fans. They’re not respectful. They don’t care that they ruined the night for everyone else. They just wanted to be heard, and Dave didn’t smack them around the way Joe Rogan or Bill Burr would have. He could have; he just chose not to. He was just there to collect a paycheck and ride on out of town.
As he closed the show he went back to the man whose cell phone he’d taken away and said, “I should have let you record the whole thing. Then you could play it back for me and tell me where it all went wrong.”