Towards what seemed like the halfway point of his show in London last night, Dave Chappelle announced to the crowd he was going to tell us something he was refusing to tell the media.
He wanted us to know, he said while looking sadly at the floor, that his quarrel was not with the gay or the trans communities . No, no. Looking up and raising an index finger, he explained: 'I’m fighting a corporate agenda that needs to be addressed.'
Thinking we still had another hour of the show to go, we cheered. ‘You fight those corporate vampires, Dave!’ we thought. He then let us know, whenever it was possible, that we should be kind to one another. Very shortly after that he raised his thumbs aloft and walked off stage: 45 minutes. Friday night tickets are £160. You show those corporate vamp… oh.
Dave Chappelle is a very rich man. Reading through the coverage of the whirligig of controversy he quite deliberately tipped off last week by finishing his latest Netflix special The Closer with the observation that (to paraphrase) 'trans pussy is not the same as non-trans pussy', the thing that really stood out was how much he is paid to do those specials. Since 2017, he’s done six – each about 70 minutes long. Netflix reportedly pays him $20 million per show.
At last night’s show in Hammersmith (3,500 seats, so about $3.5 million for 8 nights – or six hours on stage, all in), Chappelle seemed keen to let us know he was richer than us. He told a joke at the outset that involved the detail he'd reached 60 miles an hour in his car on his driveway, in pursuit of a malefactor. 'That probably seems pretty fast for a driveway,' he said. 'But that’s because you’re thinking of your own house.' Repeatedly, too, he bought his bodyguards out from the wings so we could see them for ourselves.
I’d warned my wife on the way in she would probably hate every second of it. I thought she’d be appalled by much of his humour. But the show was funny. It wasn’t as subversive or anything like as provocative as The Closer, but he still had her and the rest of the audience roaring through a lengthy section on male-on-male rape.
Chappelle is very good at what he does. In The Closer, he unironically references the Greatest of All Time status some have bestowed on him, which is a considerable stretch – particularly on last night’s showing. But is he the hero we need? Certainly, comedy now seems the only force capable of making meaningful inroads against the unsmiling, dark armies of cancel culture and corporate-backed wokery. It’s only the comics who are allowed to say what is increasingly deemed unsayable for the rest of us.
Like the very best comedians, Chappelle for the most part doesn’t take sides. Instead he delights and confounds in equal measure, taking on all comers, whether apparently marginalised or not. 'They’re after you,' he says he was recently told. 'Is it one they, or lots of them?' comes the wide-eyed reply.
Close to the end of last night’s show Chappelle expressed confidence that the strictures of political correctness would soon be eased. 'They’ll snap out of it,' he said. Until then, presumably, he’ll keep fighting the good fight, for millions of dollars an hour.
Chapelle is undeniable – the word comedians use to praise members of their profession who never fail to make any audience laugh. But undeniable or not, the fact remains that £160 for a 45-minute show is a corporate-style con.