A Dave Chappelle show is akin to witnessing a stunt performance.
You watch the daredevil casually set up the obstacles, all the while certain it will end in tears, only for him to emerge heroically unscathed.
In his debut Middle Eastern gig, the first of two shows at the Dubai Comedy Festival on Thursday night, the 42-year-old certainly made it challenging for himself – and us – by fearlessly wading into controversial subject matter.
Nothing was spared: Bill Cosby, racism, sexism, parenthood and even the use of our two feet.
Just when you thought Chappelle pinned himself in a corner by being outrageously offensive, like Houdini, he somehow freed himself with a zinger more startlingly revelatory than a mere punch line.
We were clearly in the presence of master craftsman.
Wearing a rather awful looking beige suit, or as he described as his “ Forrest Gump suit”, Chappelle was deceptively casual on stage.
Often luring us with quick rapid fire jokes, most of which aimed at people strolling back to their seats from a toilet break, Chappelle would use the chuckles to build momentum until reaching a point to unleash sharp observations about important issues.
A seemingly harmless exchange with an Arab crowd member about his former experience living in the US, was a catalyst to delve in to the state of American race relations.
“In America there is always a racial hot seat and the people from the Middle East are now in it,” he states, only to add “and we African Americans and Mexicans would like to thank you for that.”
His riff on whether to label Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) “a he or she” after the recent gender change could have easily descended in puerile material. However, while Chappelle was certainly crass, he used the topic to ask the audience the more probing question: “to what extent do I have to participate in your self-image?”
It is this blend of total irreverence and social commentary that made Chappelle’s show easily one of the best comic performances the region has witnessed yet.
Earlier in the evening, the support acts, Palestinian American comic Mohammed Amer and Chappelle Show collaborator Donnell Rawlings, did a fine job of warming up the stage.
The latter was in particularly hilarious form when recalling an earlier experience performing in Abu Dhabi.
“I was there for four days and I still didn’t know how to pronounce the place,” he recalled. “I would call my friends and say ‘hey, I am having a great time in Aba Cadaba.”
Dave Chappelle performs tonight, Friday, October 23 on the Dubai Comedy Festival Main Stage (Skydive Dubai) for ages 18 and up. Tickets cost from Dh295 to Dh1,200. Doors open at 6pm; show starts at 8pm. For booking details, visit www.dubaicomedyfest.ae