Late Tuesday afternoon, Helium Comedy Club sent out an email announcing that Dave Chappelle was coming to town the next day to perform eight shows over four nights. The scramble to get tickets—even with the hefty $55 price tag—was short and frenzied. They were gone in an hour.
No surprise there. I mean, this is Chappelle were talking about. Was it really any surprise to see LaMarcus Aldridge squeezed into a booth, waiting for the show to begin with the rest of us plebes?
Few things in Portland can cause mass hysteria like Dave Chappelle. In 2009, he famously tried to give an impromptu show at Pioneer Square, which ended before it began when thousands of fans shows up.
Over the past two years, Chappelle has slowly inched his way back into the spotlight, appearing in small clubs and venues across the country, often without any advance notice. His abrupt withdrawal from fame occurred at the peak of his success in 2005 when he quit his hit TV show to go to Africa. No one knew quite what to make of it (Comedy Central had reportedly offered him $40 million to continue) and his fans feasted on wild rumors of mental breakdowns, crack addiction, and even insanity. When he stormed off a stage in Connecticut last year, fans and media jumped to the conclusion that Chappelle had indeed lost it.
No wonder his shows are cloaked in such surprise and security. Last night, we were repeatedly reminded that we were not to film or record anything, and that heckling was strictly prohibited. This is standard for any comedy show, of course, but the menacing repetition of these warnings, which were posted on nearly every free inch of wall space, gave the impression of extreme paranoia (of course, Chappelle has a history with hecklers).
But when he took the stage (following an excellent opening by local funny man Shane Torres), the tension vanished. His stage presence was classic Chappelle: easy, relaxed, and affable with sudden eruptions of energy (and yes, his trademark cackle.) He sat on a stool, bummed cigarettes from the people in the front row, ordered a Corona from a passing waitress. It was fun.
As for the material, what can I say, it was the funniest set I've heard in a long time. His jokes spanned current events (On the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, "It landed on Tupac Island!" On Clippers owner Donald Sterling, "But his dick's not racist! It was at NAACP rallies and shit!") to classic Chappelle joke mines, like the attractiveness of women at weed parties versus coke parties.
He ended the show with an open invitation to join him at Sassy's. I didn't go, because I could only imagine the line to get in.