DJ Trauma is urging the audience to stand and wave their arms in the air, as if they don’t care that they’ve waited in line, then sat through a half-hour of pumped-up jams, racially sensitive jokes from “Ashy Larry” and more remixed dance anthems from the 1970s and 1980s. He could be hyping up the crowd. Or he could be killing time. Probably both.
After all, as the DJ shouts to the sold-out crowd assembled at Théâtre Maisonneuve of Montreal’s Place des Arts: “This isn’t a regular comedy show. This is a Dave Chappelle comedy show!”
Chappelle set a Montreal Just For Laughs ticket sales record in 2013 when he played the theater for 10 sold-out shows, and he’s back to match or better that mark this week.
A comeback, though?
He has worked the road consistently for much of the past two years, touring not just the United States and Canada, but also a recent stretch through the United Kingdom and Europe — where he notes now how badly Arabs have it in terms of prejudice and racism these days. And he scoffs at tabloid rumors that he may retire from stand-up comedy: “The problem with stand-up is I’m just too good at it!”
Chappelle certainly exudes such confidence in himself and his seemingly boundless ability to provoke laughs out of everything and nothing at all, such that sometimes, a long enough pause in the proceedings might make an audience become insecure far quicker than it’ll have him wavering.
That’s what happened in Detroit, he maintained. Probably that outdoor Oddball incident in Hartford two summers ago, too.
An audience member asking for his or her money back isn’t about to faze Chappelle.
“I don’t do refunds. I’m like Evel Knievel. I get paid for the attempt!” he quipped.
On this Tuesday night late-show attempt, Chappelle spent the better part of his hour and 15 minutes onstage not only to deflect TMZ rumors, but also to make fun of Bill Cosby and the overwhelmingly mounting evidence of that comedian’s “antique rapes,” the rise of ISIS, and his own disappointment in Caitlyn Jenner, whom Chappelle claims “she did it for the money.” (I heard comedians at two other showcases Tuesday night joke dismissively of Caitlyn Jenner, both for various cynical reasons) Chappelle offered another bit about a disruptive transgender partygoer he once encountered, and ruminated on how the pronouns sometimes change before the sex organs do. He had more prolonged fun with a running joke about fat people, whom he claimed at one point represented “the final frontier of hate.”
Audience members behaving badly also have gotten his attention, as Chappelle reflected on the young man who had thrown a banana peel at him in New Mexico, and an Asian woman at one show elsewhere who accused him of racism. Which made Chappelle chuckle, as his wife of 14 years is Asian, too.
One Montreal audience member made a fast friend in Chappelle by tossing a carton of smokes onstage when Chappelle asked for a cigarette, then later informed the comedian that he’d snuck a marijuana joint into the carton.
“Chris, if you PCP that joint, I’ll be furious!” Chappelle cackled. “If you Cosby’d that joint…” he added, before launching into a brief Cosby impersonation.
No half-baked performance this night, however.
As he noted, “I do my misdemeanors in private now.”
Not that he still doesn’t enjoy flouting laws or conventions. For one thing, the onstage smoking — he loves the fact that he can run an end-around municipal rules as an entertainer, and threw in an aside on this show about one time he couldn’t, having to face then-Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in one ironically unsuccessful request a couple of years ago. For another, Chappelle closed with a story about his brush with the FBI over an unknown harasser.
Strict rules remain in effect for his audiences. No pictures or videos, obviously. Chappelle jokes he endures enough scrutiny from tabloid gossip magazines and websites as it is — please don’t add fuel to that fire. Anyhow: Wait 45 minutes into his act, and the stand-up superstar will ask you for topic requests.
At Tuesday’s late show, an enterprising audience member in the front row asked Chappelle if — whether he ever returns to Comedy Central or not — would we ever see him perform sketch comedy again?
“If you really miss me doing sketch comedy, you can just watch Key & Peele every week,” Chappelle replied. “It’s a very similar show.”