The Dave Chappelle show that was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. last Saturday at the Smith Center showed no sign of beginning by 9:15. While the PA played its pre-show mix, the capacity crowd of about 5,000 surged with applause and cheers and receded into relative silence in an almost tidal fashion. By 9:26, the crowd seemed ready for a Woodstock ’99 Redux, but thankfully a Program Board member introduced Greer Barnes, Chappelle’s opening act. Barnes had been given the thankless job of warming up a crowd frigid with impatience, but he quickly proved his mettle. Knowing that he was addressing a college audience, the first joke he made was about smoking weed, which drew a huge cheer from the crowd and immediately won people’s hearts.
Later, Barnes described his half-Jewish, half-black childhood, most notably his involvement with his all-Jewish high school basketball team- he claimed he scored an average of 75 points a game. Throughout the rest of his performance, Barnes expressed his fear of the digital photographers in the crowd. “You’re gonna edit out this mic and put a dick in my face!” he said. Later, he did a surprisingly accurate impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger and acted out an underwater scuba shootout, complete with sound effects. Barnes’ performance brought the crowd out of its grumbling funk and set a sunnier stage for Chappelle’s much anticipated arrival.
Chappelle himself walked onstage after the PA played an unexpectedly sincere song about the hopelessness and despondency facing inner-city blacks. Chappelle, from minute one, began to deliver the bitingly satirical humor for which he has become so well-known. In the beginning came an unlikely comedic brunt regarding Elizabeth Smart.
“They took her eight miles from her house,” Chappelle explained. “How smart can she be? The kidnappers left her alone in that house all the time, too. Did they just say, ‘If you try and escape, we’re gonna kill you. We’ll be right back?'”
Along the way, Chappelle also mused about topics as far-ranging as the origin of AIDS being linked to “fucking monkeys,” and the fact that he believes himself to be the last celebrity to still masturbate. Chappelle also mused on the miracle of childbirth
“One day it hit me,” Chapelle said. “My son asked me if he could have a bowl of cereal, and I realized, ‘Boy, you used to live in my nuts.'”
Later, after someone in the rafters called out to him to do Tyrone his crack-head alter-ego from Comedy Central’s “Chappelle’s Show,” he instantly adopted an Uncle Tom-like character, replying “Oh, would you like me to do a soft-shoe for you?” and proceeded to dance a little jig.
About halfway through the show, Chappelle lit a cigarette and began puffing away when a member in the rafters shouted, “Put that out! I’ve got asthma!” Chappelle slowly turned, replied in a deep voice, “Oh, do you? I’m sorry,” and very slowly raised the cigarette to his lips, took a big drag and slowly exhaled.
By the time Chappelle’s set was over, the crowd seemed to have forgotten about the show’s late start. With Barnes’ starting things off and Chappelle carrying the momentum, the show in its entirety proved to be worth the wait.