US comic Dave Chappelle returned to Dubai with a fast moving set laced with observations both socially potent and off-colour.
Tuesday’s show should also cement the UAE as a legitimate touring spot in all of his future world tours.
The show was another success for Chappelle in terms of ticket sales. Just like his two dates at the Skydive Dubai's makeshift stage as part of the Dubai Comedy Festival in 2015, his return to the Emirate was another sell-out with up to 8,000 people packed in the Sheikh Rashid Hall to see a comic at the peak of his powers and fame.
With that comes a certain amount of industry clout which the 45-year-old has uncompromisingly flexed in various ways. One of which is that eye watering 60-million-dollar deal (Dh222.35m) he received from Netflix to exclusively stream a bunch of his specials.
The other was Chappelle’s concert request that all mobile phones to be placed in a lockable pouch before entering the venue (which can be opened via staff outside of the show).
The end result was a UAE concert rarity; not one flashing mobile phone screen punctured the darkness of the hall. The crowd sat in rapt attention as they witnessed a master at work.
Dressed in a purple jumpsuit emblazoned with his initials, his appeal lies being in a laid back host. The key is to make it all looks effortless.
Well tested material is presented as first time observations as Chappelle languidly guided us into the issues that both amuse and concern him. But behind that casual banter is a supreme technician; a confident comic knowing when to cut through the laughs with sharp observations and went to provide levity with some good old fashioned toilet humour.
From the rash of US school shootings to the #MeToo movement, Chappelle gleefully hopscotched his way through a series of hot button topics to land relatively unscathed.
Here are some takeaways from the performance:
America's problematic gun culture
It is out of control, Chappelle states, hence its "good to be in the Middle East where it's safe."
He delved into the topic through the prism of school shootings presently plaguing US society. To underscore the ridiculousness of suggestions by lawmakers that teachers should be armed in classrooms, Chappelle takes us through a group exercise: “Now close your eyes and just picture your English teacher,” he says. “Now, just picture two nine-millimeters in her hands.”
He also questions the logic of putting students through safety drills in preparedness of future incidents: “Aren’t we also training the shooter too?” he asks.
Poverty is a state of mind
One of the key themes of Chappelle’s work over the last two decades is poverty and its effects.
Where his earlier specials, such as 2000s Killin' Them Softly and 2004's For What It's Worth, had Chappelle exploring its detrimental effect on the African-American communities, this time around he looks at how the current opioid epidemic has affected mostly rural white communities across the US.
“It is sad because it reminds me of what the blacks went through, that crack epidemic in the 1980s” he says.
“It really gave me an insight into what white people felt when they saw us going through the scrounge of crack…because I don’t care neither.”
That said, Chappelle says he is empathetic to those under the poverty line. As someone who grew up in a similar environment in Washington D.C, Chappelle describes it as a searing experience that “informs the rest of your life”. He credits his father for teaching him to have hope among the dire living conditions.
In response to Chappelle’s childhood cry that he was sick of being poor, his late father — a former teacher — said: “Dave, you are not poor. Poor is a mentality that many people will never recover from. You are just broke. That’s a present financial circumstance.”
Perhaps because he covered it already in his latest Netflix special Equanimity, Chappelle's musings on the present #MeToo Movement was kept short. Actually, one wondered if that was planned to be part of the set as Chappelle launched into it as a response to a female crowd member shouting out: "Sexism is everywhere."
Chappelle proceeded to address her as he detailed his thoughts on the movement, which he describes as important as it is problematic.
He was heartfelt in detailing how the movement continues to sideline the struggles faced by African-American women in US society. In response to the remarks made by US actress Bette Middler’s statement (although he didn’t mention her by name) that “Women, are the n-word of the world,” Chappelle quizzed whether she “ever heard about black woman?”
Ultimately, he says the movement can only achieve its aim if men are also enlisted to “stand alongside women” and join the fight. As a Muslim, Chappelle invoked the words of the Prophet Mohammed who preached the equality of men and women throughout his life.
Was the show too short?
With the performance clocking in at just over 50 minutes and tickets ranging from Dh300 to Dh1500, some of the disgruntled murmurs heard after the show are justified. But there is no denying that despite the brevity, all the show’s observations and jokes hit hard.
A Chappelle show is now akin to an experience at a Michelin-star restaurant, it is pricey and the portions small, but the flavours and overall execution are flawless.