To paraphrase soul's great orator, James Brown, it's time to get off Dave Chappelle's back and let him do the popcorn. He must be allowed to be the sly, rude, observational stand-up we knew him to be before Chappelle's Show, the mega-successful Comedy Central sketch series he ended in 2005 with an abruptness that gave him an unwarranted rep for erratic behavior. The guy didn't want to have a career ruled by catchphrases familiar to Show fanatics. What's weird about that?
From the sight of a chain-smoking Chappelle at the Tower Theater on Saturday, the comic was as crudely on point with raunchy material (e.g. imitations of X-rated Lil Wayne) as he was with awesomely, surprisingly warm material about his wife and kids. He wasn't interested in short jabs with hard punch lines; he was all about the long story, the extended riff.
When speaking about family, Chappelle came across like Bill Cosby - if the Cos allowed himself to curse. The lean Chappelle went on about sending one son to private school and the other to public as "an experiment," with the kid attending private school as the "gangster" of the pair. Jokes about becoming more of a big brother than a dad, and masturbating when his family left the house, reinforced the Naughty Cosby comparison.
Chappelle hasn't gone whole hog on wholesomeness. It's become a color in his palette. He did an n-word-laced take on Paula Deen's racist chatter, claiming he felt bad for Deen, and would hire her as his personal chef and dress her like Aunt Jemima. He didn't care what bigoted remarks she made - as long as she cooked.
His best riff was about how he's perceived, jokes about his ex-network (he's not worried about Comedy Central's black comic team, Key & Peele), and the tour he's been on since August that took him famously to Hartford, Conn., where he was booed by 30,000 people. "Worst comeback ever," he teased, before discussing the fallout of a nuclear bomb and Hartford in the same sentence.
On the subject of Chappelle's Show, he quickly answered a heckler's cry about its end by saying, "I didn't quit. I just stopped going." He even brought on Show regular Donnell Rawlings to close the party with that program's famed catchphrase, "I'm rich, biaaaaatch!"
With that touch, Chappelle reclaimed his rep and showed he's proud of what came before and unafraid of what's to come.