There’s been so much discussion about whether or not politics has a place in sports lately, it was fascinating to see it intentionally and without apology infused throughout Dave Chappelle’s Monday night comedy show at the Warner Theater in downtown Washington, D.C.
Chapelle, infamous for his self-imposed hiatus from show business back in 2005 when he literally walked out in the middle of his successful sketch comedy show on Comedy Central, is back with a series of stand-up shows recorded for Netflix. He’s been on a run in Washington, D.C., with this week marking his second at the historic Warner across the street from the White House.
And whether or not politics in comedy is your jam, his show is brilliant. It’s steeped in heavy topics such as being forced to vote for Hillary even though it was like having a f*rt in the face (that’s as clean as I can make that particular joke) and is funny, smart, raunchy, thoughtful and worth the occasional intense discomfort that being truthful can bring.
Chappelle is a native of D.C. and he opens the show by comparing the city of his youth in the 80s to what it’s become. “I saw white people running through the Shaw neighborhood,” he said. “Not running away, just running.” That sets the tone, and the audience settles in for a ride through race-relations, Chappelle’s own struggles as a performer required to jump through hoops like being asked to endorse Hillary (he wouldn’t) and being mistaken for a Trump supporter (he’s not).
He also goes into detail about why he had to leave comedy for a while, a story that is a mirror of sorts for what the culture is currently grappling with: the stultifying doom of political correctness. His audience, he says, became “bitch-a** ni**as”. Everyone got too sensitive and left him feeling like he couldn’t tell a joke and he had to step away and think about how to continue in that kind of environment.
And then he did something that sounds downright heroic is this age of football playing Army Rangers being forced to apologize for deference to their flag: he decided to do what he does well, with no change to the program, refusing to be bullied by the tide of political correctness. And let the chips fall.
And they’re falling his way. Not many comedians can get away with telling the truth about the poor white people he saw standing in line when he went to vote in the 2016 election in his home state of Ohio. He heard them all saying that Donald Trump was going to D.C. to work for them, and that’s why they were there voting for him, in all their “coal-stained” glory.
“You dumb mother-f*cker,” the multi-millionaire Chappelle remembers thinking. “You’re poor. He’s going to work for ME.”
His most poignant — and hilarious — moments come when he eviscerates popular thought like a young Richard Pryor in his heyday. Listening to Chappelle adopt a Martin Luther King Jr. cadence as a p*ssy-hat wearing Women’s Marcher, acknowledging that particular gathering has no coherent set of problems to be fixed and therefore nothing “legislation can address” was eye-wateringly funny. And his take on Donald Trump as a great unifier because everyone agrees they hate him was marvelously insightful.
Then there’s the story of Emmett Till, which he tells almost as a fireside chat, and tells the audience that his tragic story was actually a good thing because it changed the trajectory of race relations and improved the situation in this country. And even though the woman who testified against Till, an act that led to his murder, admitted on her death bed that she lied, Chappelle said he wanted to thank her to her face if he could.
“I’d look her straight in her eyes,” the comedian told the crowd last night, before saying good night, “And I’d say thank you, you lyin’ a** b*tch.”
If you can’t catch Chappelle live, be sure to check out his Netflix series. It’s worth your time and discomfort.