Don’t Call it a Comeback – Dave Chappelle @ PNC, 9/7/13
More than a few of the great comedians from Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Richard Pryor went through a time when they turned their back on mainstream success in order to find their true comedic zen. Those times were almost always turbulent and troubled, as Dave Chappelle discovered when he left his hit show on Comedy Central a few years ago and became the Axl Rose of comedy. Undoubtedly one of the most brilliant and naturally funny men to ever hold a mic, the world came to wonder if he would ever find his way back to the stage again after his meteoric rise to fame left him so unfulfilled.
On Saturday at the PNC Bank Arts Center, on a crisp September night, I had the once in a lifetime chance to see one of my comedic heroes rekindle my faith in the power of comedy to touch upon the untouchable and move people in the same way a great rock concert can. “I know a few of you are just waiting to see me meltdown – and I might,” he began. “And that’s OK. Everyone wants to be at Siegfried and Roy on the night the tiger goes crazy and attacks someone.”
But there was no meltdown, just a little chain-smoking and an hour-plus set of non-stop hilarity from a refreshed, pumped-up comic whose natural power as performer far outshines the fact that he is still a bit scarred and shaken by the pop-culture machine that almost ate him up. He asked that people didn’t call this tour a ‘comeback’ – but the legion of fans, some 16,000 strong that packed the sold-out arena filled the night with such ecstatic laughter and applause, you could not help but feel you were witnessing the rebirth of a legend. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s an incredibly rare thing of great beauty – and if we can’t cope with an artist having an occasional period of uncertainty and doubt, then we haven’t learned a fuckin’ thing about what makes genius tick.
Dave Chappelle may not have a $50 million dollar deal with Comedy Central anymore, but he still has ‘it’. Given the bland state of pop-culture, films and modern comedy, we need the brilliant lunacy of this man now more than ever. If there is one thing Dave made me certain of, it is that we need to stop talking about the past and embrace the great things he still has to contribute. Here is to the hope that he never walks off our stage again.