Dave Chappelle & Why Entertainers Shouldn’t Walk Off Stage

September 6, 2013  |  

So Dave Chappelle’s has barked back at hecklers and in the process, denounced the entire city of Hartford.

During the Chicago stop on the Funny or Die comedy tour, Chappelle took a moment to lampoon his controversial performance in Connecticut, calling the crowd evil and full of young white alcoholics. He also said that he wanted to pull a reverse Kramer and call them all “crackers” but didn’t want it to be on YouTube. Said Chappelle:

I would never go back. I wouldn’t even go to Hartford for gas. I don’t want anything bad to happen to the United States, but if North Korea ever drops a nuclear bomb on this country, I swear to God I hope it lands in Hartford, Connecticut.”

I made it no secret that Dave Chappelle is probably one of my most favorite comedians of all times (I have quoted enough of his material in my pieces that there should be no doubt of my love otherwise). I followed his comedy for years, before he got the “Chappelle Show.” At a time when his audience was mostly comprised of college frat, Half-Baked white boys. Back then, I always wondered how he managed to perform such racially loaded material in front of those audiences without calling any of them “crackers.” And then the whole “Chappelle Show,” “I’m going to Africa to clear my mind”- thing happened and then I realized that actually no, he actually does know how to deal. But yet and still he finds himself, voluntarily, in front of these same sort of homogenous crowds again. I don’t know why he keeps putting himself in that position – other than the love for it. But if it is purely out of the love of it than he could just do his passion in some homogenous black venues, where white folks would be forced to be on their best behaviors. Of course, “black Isht” always comes with a pay-cut and unique sets of problems of its own. Perhaps the Funny or Die people offered him lots of dough, which helps take the sting out of feeling like a minstrel? If so, there is no judgment in that as everybody has to eat.

However, it feels like we are hearing more stories nowadays about entertainers, who have basically walked off or threatened to walk off a performance, just because they didn’t like the audience. Just recently, R&B singer Brandy walked off a stage in South Africa, after only 40 people – out of the 90,000-capacity stadium – stayed to see her perform during Nelson Mandela’s Sport and Culture Day. Although he didn’t walk off his gig, earlier in this year Lupe Fiasco had to physically be removed from the stage after he decided to buck his audience and perform the same anti-war song for 30 minutes straight during a ticketed Obama reelection party. And of course, there is the great and legendary Lauryn Hill, who has become rather infamous for showing up to concerts late (sometimes in excess of three hours) and then telling understandably agitated fans that they can leave if they feel she’s not worth the wait.

Back in the day, I used to cheer on these sort of acts of resistance and be like, yeah fight the power that be! But now the older I get, the more my time – and more importantly my dollars – become extremely valuable to me. And I can’t help to sympathize with those folks, who too were in those audiences and were well-behaved, appreciative and supporter of the artists. Those folks, who scrapped and saved up enough dollars to cover the ticket price to see the performance plus the price of parking, drinks and other incidentals for the evening. Those folks, who sat in their seats and didn’t hurl obscenity or otherwise heckle the stage act. Those folks, who came on time but because their performer didn’t, had to leave because they only had a babysitter for a few hours. I can’t imagine having sat there for hours to see Brandy sing “Angel in Disguise” (which is my favorite Brandy song), only for her to decide quit because she was unhappy with the audience numbers. Nor could I imagine being another black (or even apathetic white person) person, having sat along side these suburban young white alcoholic torturers, just for the honor of seeing my favorite comedian, give in to the negative cat calls and barracking, and throw his middle finger up at the rest of the performance. While I certainly understand that performers want to be respected I also wonder in earnest, what sort of obligation of respect does the performer have to its audience?

Granted, I am not an performer. I don’t know what it is like to stand in front of crowds, sometimes extremely big ones, of finicky people and entertain them. I imagine that some days are better than others. If it is any relevancy, I do know what it is like to deal with backlash from some of the wonderful ladies and gentlemen of MadameNoire – most of which comes by way of the comment sections. Through that, I have come to learn that in order to put yourself out there for public consumption, you do have to develop a tougher outer shell.

But then again, sometimes the customer is not always right. And in spite of your best aim to maintain professionalism, you just can’t help to air folks out once in a while. Like how not too long ago, I’d seen Mike Tyson, former heavyweight champion of the world, perform in his one-man show, when it was here in town. During the performance, Tyson would struggle and stumble a bit over his script. It was noticeable but not all that distracting. However every time it happened, some folks, mostly white, would take that opportunity to yell out “words of encouragement,” which were more distracting than his actual flub. And at one point during the show, when he again flubbed over yet another line, one of those “encouraging” audience hecklers decided to yell out, “Take your time Mike!” To which Tyson grimaced and barked, “Yo dude, shut the Fawk up!” I imagine that Tyson might have wanted to quit the show plenty of times that night. However he didn’t and instead, those impromptu roast of the audience members were some of the funniest part of the entire evening.

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