Review: Dave Chappelle explains that whole thing about South Africa

Florida Times-Union — So how do you review a Dave Chappelle show in a newspaper most generally enjoyed by folks over their morning Cocoa Puffs? Well, first, you leave lots of it out, like the extended bit about the show “Cheaters,” or hilarious tale of an old fight with a crystal meth addict, or the series of stories regarding the gynecologist. Especially that last part.

But that’s easier to do than you think, because only about half of the first of Chappelle’s two sold-out shows at the Times-Union Center on Tuesday night fit the strict constructionist definition of comedy. Divorced for years from his insanely successful “Chappelle’s Show” and still clearly reeling from the bizarre media speculation regarding his self-imposed exile to South Africa, the Dave Chappelle who turned down $50 million from Comedy Central is a new animal these days, and much stronger for it.

Sure, on the surface, 2006 Chappelle is the same guy you watch on the DVDs, laser-quick with his trademark riffs on race relations, “Girls Gone Wild” videos and his own fragile reputation (“Rest assured, if you see ‘Half Baked 2,’ I ran out of money,” he cracks, probably not kidding). He’s sneaky with his smarts, masking them under dorm-approved comic riffs, and quick to diffuse whatever tension he builds by breaking himself up in fits of innocent-looking hilarity, rubber limbs flailing all over the place.

But there’s a fire in his more measured paces now, a bigger purpose, and it’s grounded in that bizarre exodus that sent him to Africa for an unspecified time. As pure his motives may have been – the explanation of which seems to be the point of his return to the stand-up circuit – there’s still something about a guy who turns down fat bags of cash to do a dozen episodes of skit comedy. Well, strike that – there’s something in America about that guy, and that difference provides the crux of an act that’s now grounded in “The Game,” which seems to have become for Chappelle what the obscenity trial was to Lenny Bruce.

That’s because after a typically rat-a-tat-tat opening set involving rumors of his own insanity (“When you read in Newsweek that you’re crazy, you start to think … maybe I’m crazy!”), the illegal immigration debate (“I only knew immigration was a problem when I started finding Mexicans in my hiding places”), and invading Iraq while North Korea waved nuclear threats around (“We don’t invade countries with WMD – that shit’s dangerous!”), Chappelle smoothly careened off of his comedy highway into a craggier, hard-to-predict and fairly astonishing monologue.

Fully getting into it involves way more ink than we have, and besides, it ruins the closure he provides at its end. But it proves a visceral riff on capitalism, American excess, the structure of language and the genesis of subtle stereotyping and it stars Iceberg Slim, a notorious Chicago pimp from the ‘40s. Chappelle spins this tale like a master storyteller, and though you know this is a guy who Richard Pryor christened the savior of smart comedy in America, his story of a pimp, a “bottom bitch” and a briefcase of cash transcends even those accolades, and blows the future of this onetime sketch comedian wide open. Most importantly, it concludes with the nature of The Game, and the real reason Chappelle fled to Africa. It’s a secret. But he knows. Just trust him.

About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

2 responses to “Review: Dave Chappelle explains that whole thing about South Africa

  • Jason

    You know right off the bat that any review that mentions my hero Lenny Bruce is going to cause me to respond. On the serious side, I think the Chappelle-as-Bruce idea is intriguing. Here’s a guy (like Bruce) who started doing funny-but-regular stand-up, then evolved into a big star (Chappelle on TV, Bruce on LP). What happens next? Both men face enormous crises (Chappelle in Africa, Bruce in every court from San Fran to NYC to Philly), and … then what? In Bruce’s case, he used his court experiences to add depth and humanity to his act, but his continuous hounding by the authorities proved to be too much for him. Chappelle is facing his crisis at a different time, and in a markedly different environment. It’ll be interesting to see what comes next.


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