Chip Chantry, the Philly comedian, had a tough job last night. "I'm literally the only person standing between you and Dave Chappelle," he said.
Chantry's job was to warm up the crowd for Chappelle, who unofficially opened Punch Line, Live Nation's new addition to Philadelphia's comedy scene.
But Chantry handled himself with aplomb in front of a crowd lucky enough to snag tickets to one of Chappelle's four shows that sold out the day they went on sale. Chappelle's Punch Line gig was a rare opportunity to see the comedian play a mid-sized venue — Punch Line holds 300 — rather than an arena or big room.
But the famously erratic Chappelle felt immediately at home on the Punch Line stage. It's a nice venue with a modern, warehouse feel. Like most comedy clubs, it's a tight squeeze, and the capacity crowd felt jammed into the room. But the sightlines and sound were good, aspects of the venue that meant more than a waiter or two having to lean over you to get your tablemate's drink order. Service was quick and friendly, and the drink menu was solid for a comedy club. Even Chappelle thought so; he bought two drinks for some ladies near the front before ordering his own Casamigos Reposado.
Chappelle felt loose and at ease, chain-smoking the entire set and interacting with the crowd. One of the benefits of watching a comedian of Chappelle's stature at a venue of Punch Line's size is what's lost in translation during at a big arena show. He chatted with the crowd, especially a couple up in the front row, calling back to each of their jokes and flirting with a waitress. He found a 17-year-old in the crowd, and quickly changed his tone from raucous to quietly serious. He sat on a stool facing her, and told her about Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. Chappelle talked about Johnson's relationship to his race, relating him to OJ Simpson, and then Senator John McCain, whose attempts to pardon Johnson Chappelle saw as politically motivated. But then Chappelle turned on a dime; his pace picked up and he seamlessly returned to his set.