Reasonable minds can differ on whether or not Dave Chappelle's act is unnecessarily cruel. But here's something we should all agree on: It's getting way too expensive to experience him in person.
Tickets for Chappelle's Wednesday performance, which shifted from First Avenue to the Varsity Theater less than five hours before showtime after social media backlash, were originally priced at $129, already a small fortune to watch a guy tell jokes into a microphone.
But since ticket brokers swallowed up the bulk of the tickets as soon as they went on sale Tuesday, the vast majority of patrons paid a whole lot more. After an extensive online search, I ponied up a whopping $350. I assume those attending the shows Thursday and Friday at the Varsity will be in the same boat.
For that kind of dough, you hoped that the comedian would have a special surprise, maybe Jon Stewart popping out of a cake. That's not as crazy as it sounds. During his Twin Cities appearance last November at Target Center, Chappelle brought out Usher and Justin Bieber for mini-concerts, then cajoled them to join in a giant karaoke session.
But there were no rock star moments this time around. After Marshall Brandon delivered a smart but unspectacular opening set, the man himself emerged in a white, untucked T-shirt and blue jeans. He chain-smoked cigarettes and sipped tequila throughout the one-hour set, a reasonable running time for most comics but a disappointment for those who have been treated to Chappelle's three-hour concerts that turn into therapy sessions.
Not that he didn't get personal. Chappelle spent much of his time talking about the anger he's stirred up in the past year. He went into detail about an incident in May when a man tackled him on the Hollywood Bowl stage, later saying that he was triggered by the comic's material about transgender people and the homeless.
He also ridiculed protesters who had spent a few hours outside the Varsity before the show, swearing through bullhorns and picking fights with fans. Chappelle referred to them as a small group of transgender lunatics and joked that they were probably hired by his wife, determined to suck the joy out of his life. He also shrugged off the idea that they posed any real threat.
"I can see a transgender hit squad coming from a mile away," he said, slapping the microphone against his thigh, a move that's become his trademark.
He pulled his punches when it came to First Avenue, a club that gave him a star on its Wall of Fame in 2013, but then canceled his show Wednesday after it was heavily criticized for the booking.
Early in the set, Chappelle seemed sympathetic, sharing that he had heard children of some First Avenue staffers had been threatened. But after a few glasses of booze (and a Foggy Geezer beer) he admitted that the cancellation had been devastating and hoped the club would be more courageous in the future.
He also found time to try out new material and play off the punchy crowd. He chided a woman in the front row for wearing a mask, called monkeypox a "gay disease" and accused "The Price Is Right" of being racist. He peaked early with a hilarious bit about explaining to his son why he spends time in strip joints. It doesn't look like cancel culture is going to soften his act anytime soon.
The evening's most somber moment — and Chappelle almost always has one — came during an anecdote about how he stood up to Russian mobsters who he believed ruined his first HBO special. It was a revealing example of Chappelle's fortitude.
But for $350 I was hoping for something a bit more moving — or at least one song from Usher.