Dave Chappelle said it himself last night during a 2-hour, 20-minute performance that lasted until 4 a.m. this morning at the Comedy Cellar: “I transcend comedy!”
Well, Chappelle said many things last night in his two surprise drop-in sets at the Cellar during his first night of a short visit to New York City. But as I sat there watching in amazement, alternating between laughing at Chappelle’s inspired off-the-cuff observations and wondering when an annoying British TV producer would understand that his audible replies weren’t always warranted nor welcomed. To be fair, Chappelle did engage several members of the audience in crowd work (including that producer, a mining engineer, medical school students, a documentary crew, and a housewife), culminating two hours later in the comedian pitching a documentary film that would follow him venturing around the world to reconnect with each and every one of these audience members. A half-hour before that, Chappelle launched into an impromptu master-class on stand-up comedy with a young red-haired comedian sitting next to the stage. It came out of nowhere. But it was nevertheless brilliant to watch and listen as Chappelle told the 21-year-old in the audience what to build for the first five minutes of his act, based off of the power of his name — which Chappelle repeatedly called back to — then how to go about the next 20 minutes of his stand-up playing with the audience’s perception of him, and then how he could then use the second half-hour of his act to express his point of view about the world.
I can see how Chappelle does these marathon shows, now. He jokingly apologized about not having an act, while also joking about how he has indeed transcended comedy and writes jokes backward, starting with the punchlines. But his act is not having an act. Enjoying the fact that whenever he needs attention, he can drop in at a comedy club without preparing material (even though he did tell at least a few bits that I’d heard or seen him do before) and just be funny. Be in the moment. Give audiences a truly magical mystery tour.
Dave Chappelle may not be the fifth Beatle of comedy. But he certainly is in a league of his own.
Even on a night in which he follows Chris Rock onstage. Yeah. That happened last night, too.
Note: The above photo is from a different performance.