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I was all set to give Dave Chappelle a pass last week when he decided to teach his audience a lesson at a Hartford comedy festival.
Faced with alleged "hecklers" at Funny or Die's Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival (and what comedy show is heckler-free? I mean, really...), Chappelle fired back not with a few zingers to sort out the ill-behaved, likely drunken audience members, but instead tossed a hissy and refused to do his set. As he was contractually obligated to perform for 25 minutes, Chappelle filled the time by reading a book supplied by a fan, smoking a cigarette, offering a story about Richard Pryor in a similar predicament and admonishing the audience about its bad behavior. Then left the stage.
Had I paid for a ticket, I'd be a little cheesed with Chappelle AND with the fools in the audience who admittedly ought to learn how to behave in public. Frat-boy shenangians like that are immature, boring and dumb and assuredly make any performance a nightmare, but Chappelle is supposed to be a professional and, sorry, he's no Andy Kaufman who might've pulled the whole audience punishment thing off with some style.
I also find it really tough to believe a Hartford crowd is the worst this comedian has ever encountered. I've been to my share of concerts here and in other states and I promise we're not that hard. Apparently Chappelle hasn't played the Boston area yet...
Still, I said to myself, has I gone to the Hartford show (which I nearly did), I hypothetically would've been mollified by the fabulous Flight of the Conchords, who also played a set at the same festival, which is still on tour and plays Camden, N.J., next — once referenced as one of the nation's most crime-ridden cities. I'm sure the audience will be lovely, Dave. No worries.
BUT, where Chappelle hereby lost me was in Chicago last night, where, according to an AP report, "Chappelle praised an audience in Chicago on Tuesday for being 'so much better than Hartford.'"
In lambasting our capitol city, Chappelle added, "I don't want anything bad to happen to the United States, but if North Korea ever drops a nuclear bomb on this country, I swear to God I hope it lands in Hartford, Connecticut." He then said he wouldn't return to the state even for gas.
I'm no Hartford patriot or anything, but Chappelle's reaction seems a bit much for someone in his business. There are plenty of more useful things/places/people to boycott in this crazy world.
And let's remember this is coming from a man who parodied the hell out of some of the biggest names of celebrity-dom on his hilarious, short-lived Comedy Central show. Do we suppose Rick James, Prince, L'il Jon or Tiger Woods pitched a public snit when Chappelle gave them some (deserved) business in the safe forum of a studio? Pul-lease. And even if they did complain, we'd all just make fun of them some more, which is entirely fair in the comedy code of conduct.
In short: grow up Dave. I love your act and I could listen to Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories all day, but be a professional and do your job: make fun of the dingbats who dare to try and upstage you and tell some jokes. People emerging from a crap economy paid money to see you do that — the same people who gave you a pass for running out on your own show. If you must, get a bouncer to toss out any ruffians down the road and don't punish the audience who came to a show to get a few laughs; life's too short.
But maybe, like Chappelle, I'm over-reacting, so here's the video (with decent commentary from the camera-people) from Hartford, and here's the audio from Chicago (beware adult language). You be the judge: did Chappelle over-react, or is he in his rights as an artiste? Hartford's Mayor Segarra certainly isn't amused.
And just because they're awesome, here's a song from Flight of the Conchords. Go see them or watch their far-too-short-lived HBO show — I'm fairly certain they won't yell at you for coming to a show.
I'm on Twitter: @TheMDesk