Dave Chappelle in Abu Dhabi review: Controversial comic proves he's far from finished

US comedian shows no signs of slowing down in debut Abu Dhabi performance

Comedian Dave Chappelle headlined the inaugural Abu Dhabi Comedy Week festival with a sold-out show at Etihad Arena. Photo: Abu Dhabi Comedy Week
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Snoop Dogg now has a rival when marking the most memorable concert entrance in the UAE.

Thirteen years after the rapper walked on stage at Etihad Park clad in a white kandura and red chequered ghutra, American superstar comedian Dave Chappelle may have gone one better by entering his sold-out Abu Dhabi Comedy Week show at Etihad Arena on Thursday with a hooded falcon on his arm.

“This bird has never been on stage before,” he quipped before describing how the sport of falconry is an apt metaphor for where he is at professionally.

No longer does Chapelle, one of comedy's biggest stars with Emmy and Grammy awards to his name, want to go on the hunt simply to sustain himself. Instead, he wants a career trajectory similar to a falconer, one where he is in total command and can bow out at a time of his choosing.

Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, he notes, stymied that plan with its lucrative offer to headline the festival after his reportedly final Netflix special The Closer last year.

This is all in jest, it appears, as Chappelle's stand-up career shows no signs of slowing down. A new Netflix special is seemingly on the cards, with his arrival on stage trailed by the platform’s motto beaming on the screens with the title The Lunatic’s Manifesto.

“I'm telling you right now, I am rusty. But it will come good,” Chappelle warned ahead of a performance that was by no means the finished article, but a free-wheeling and casual set that took inspiration from the present and past.

From pointed observations about the Israel-Gaza war and the US elections and the history of the African-American civil rights movement to obscene ruminations on friends and family, Chappelle's set was wise and wacky and delivered by a master raconteur.

His refrains of not caring much about politics hides an astuteness allowing him to delve meaningfully into the kind of thorny issues shied away by some peers.

When it comes to the war in Gaza, Chappelle directly described it as a “genocide” to cheers from the audience, followed by the caveat that fighting anti-Semitism is just as important in the quest to halt the cycle of violence.

Chappelle is also clearly worried by the social fractures presently in the US ahead of the elections in November. He sees no winner between candidate Donald Trump and sitting President Joe Biden.

That said, as a comic fond of a sharp turn of phrase, Chappelle’s expressed admiration for Trump’s branding of Biden as “sleepy Joe,” before launching into a brilliant section on how politically devastating the moniker has become.

Chappelle often pivots between these macro issues to more intimate looks at life in his home town of Yellow Springs in Ohio. Where in 2017 special Equanimity & The Bird Revelation had him poking fun at the genteel nature of the environment, this time around he looks at how his burgeoning celebrity status is causing tension with his neighbours after he reportedly bought millions of dollars' worth of property in the town.

Yes, Chappelle confirms, he indeed did buy the town’s old fire station in an auction and converted it into a comedy club. As for the rest of his bulging portfolio, Chappelle plans to commit the town’s cardinal sin: “I am not going to cut the grass.”

Perhaps because of his magnetism on stage or endearing smile, the weaker sections of the show also flew by as smoothly. While the characterisation of ethnic communities and dissections of relationships are dated at best, it didn't take away from Chappelle’s sheer joy of being on stage.

As shown in his recent tribute to fellow comic Kevin Hart at The Kennedy Centre Mark Twain Prize for American Humour, Chappelle is an unabashed champion of the art form in all its diversity.

And his latest show is primarily a celebration of telling jokes, no matter how big and small. At times it can be dazzling with Chappelle’s ability to twist and turn a particular premise when recalling his experience travelling in a time machine, while at other times it as direct as the toilet humour unheard of since high school days.

All have a cherished place in his heart, as has Abu Dhabi after what was his maiden performance.

“The fact that you guys are doing this festival here is one of the most powerful things that is happening in the world,” he said at the end. “I was told before stepping on stage that this is the biggest comedy show the Middle East has ever seen. Mark my words, I will be back.”

Abu Dhabi Comedy Week continues at Etihad Arena until Sunday.

Updated: May 24, 2024, 1:04 PM