Dave Chappelle Is Coming Back, But Where Is He Going?

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He'll be at Radio City Music Hall in June, but his place in comedy is uncertain.

It's been over ten years since Dave Chappelle headlined in New York City. He drops in at the Comedy Cellar from time to time, but Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, Barack Obama, and Al Roker losing weight, among a few other things, have all happened since the last time Dave Chappelle played a big New York show. But on June 19th, Dave Chappelle will perform at Radio City Music Hall, barring Chappelle cancelling, which is not an unprecedented occurrence. The only thing about the show that I feel confident predicting is that Dave Chappelle will smoke a lot of cigarettes, which is against the law to do in New York, but he will do it anyway because he's a living comedy legend who does what he wants. And that legend status is a large part of the very different comedy context Chappelle is returning to: in the time he's been gone, Dave Chappelle became a giant, literally and figuratively. 

Since the last episodes of Chappelle's Show aired in 2006, a new generation of comics has emerged who couldn't exist if Chappelle hadn't been so great. The biggest example is Key & Peele. Obviously any sketch show on Comedy Central is comparable to Chappelle's Show, but Key & Peele has a similar perspective, in how it can be exceptionally intelligent and observational, but also super silly (sometimes at the same time). More importantly, it's a racially-conscious show that doesn't always have to be about race. It can be about whatever weird stuff its creators think is funny. Black comedians were required to have a perspective that was always "black" first, "comedian" second. But Chappelle's Show's first episode, the one with Clayton Bigsby, the black white supremacist, also had the Kinko's parody, which was mostly about terrible costumer service and doo-doo jokes.  

There are post-Chappelle standups as well. Chappelle's Show co-creator Neal Brennan said to Hannibal Burress on the most recent episode of The Champs, the podcast Brennan hosts, "you could do an hour and never mention being black, whereas [Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock] would mention it because it was a bigger deal." Burress, along with some of the peers he cites like Michael Che and Jerrod Carmichael, as well as Nore Davis, Ron Funches, Seaton Smith, and especially Donald Glover, are weirdos. Chappelle paved the way for idiosyncratic black comedians. Before Chappelle, black comedians didn't talk about their roommate having too many lizards, or getting mean faces tattooed on their balls.  Dave Chappelle made the black weirdo cool and mainstream (Kanye West, too, but that's a whole 'nother compliciated story.)  

New York has changed, too, since Chappelle was last here. The Broken Angel house, where Dave Chappelle's Block Party was filmed, will soon be luxury condos. Louis C.K. became the city's (and the world's) greatest comedian. Neal Brennan moved to L.A. and staked his claim as the co-creator of Chappelle's Show. Brooklyn challenges Manhattan for cultural dominance, to the extent that it's kind of surprising that Chappelle is performing at Radio City and not the Barclay's Center. Maybe he goes there next. 

Chappelle has sort of been back for awhile, but June 19th at Radio City Music Hall will make it official. So don't ruin it, New York City, the way Hartford did. Some of us have been waiting a very long time to see Dave Chappelle, and we don't want some knuckleheads shouting him off the stage. 

Image via Getty.