Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dave Chappelle in "The Age of Spin"

I saw Dave Chappelle perform live in Toronto back in 2006 at Massey Hall, and can't believe it's been a little over ten years since the peak of my love and appreciation for this comedic artist. I made sure I purchased those tickets the second they went on sale, and remember how difficult it was to catch a glimpse of this superstar at that time. He was hotter than hot, and I was happy to be in the audience downtown taking part in that experience.

Like most fans of Chappelle's Show remember, it was tough when the program came off the air because we all felt a gap in comedy for a minute. In "black" comedy in particular. There was a void that took a long time to fill. Gone were the days of laughing hysterically, and repeating lines by heart. There were hardly any other hilarious shows left on TV. Times were hard.

Eventually, Kevin Hart took over and refreshed our smiles as the comic-of-the-moment, but Dave was one of a kind. He was then, and he is now. And even with Kevin Hart still shining bright like a diamond out there in the world of entertainment, I can now see just how special Dave is with his return.

He is simply the best. I mean, Eddie Murphy was the best too. And to some Richard Pryor was the best. Etc. Etc. Every generation has their comedic genius, and in watching the Netflix special "The Age of Spin" (released yesterday) I quickly realized that Dave Chappelle is definitely THE comedic icon that I will remember, and appreciate the most.

"The Age of Spin" is a unique special. It's funny. It's definitely funny. But not in a tear-jerking kind of hilarity, or a punchline type of humour. It's funny in a traditional good-old-Chappelle way, but with an infusion of wisdom and intelligence, and social commentary.

His style hasn't changed. He still sounds the same, and has the same cadence and tone to his stories. He still looks the same, and moves the same. But he's beaming with a new confidence, and a really admirable sense of himself and the world that you can really appreciate the time he's been away, and can see how his perspective is better off because of his absence.

It was great to hear him talk about OJ Simpson, about the Bill Cosby scandals, the success of Kevin Hart, and even Bruce Jenner's gender transition. There are so many things that have transpired since we've had regular public access to Chappelle, so I'm glad he took the time to recap some of the pop culture and social highlights, negative and positive. It was nice to hear his perspective.

He touches on racism, as per usual, and even drops MLK and the Flint water crisis into his set. He has always had this unique ability to take the most awkward and uncomfortable and even depressing scenarios, and somehow...make them funny. He's "silly" at times and says some corny shit, but he's just also so brilliant that even the ridiculously inappropriate jokes are hilarious.
For instance, he has a segment about the Care Bears. And I can appreciate a lot of his references, knowing that he represents a generation that I grew up in. He's 43 years old, but immediately set himself apart from the current generation of smartphone-addicted, technology-obsessed people that many of us have transitioned into by default.

But he grew up in an era of Care Bears, and went to great lengths to describe the significance of the cartoon, and the innocence of the message, and its purity. As I listened to him tell this particular story, I was just extremely proud to have grown up in an era where Dave Chappelle was a comedic leader. Despite the other jokesters that have come and gone in the ten years that Chappelle took a slight hiatus from "celebrity life"...I felt comforted by his return, and like comedy was in good hands again.

The world is kinda messed up right now. The daily news is driving me crazy. The politics are unbelievably insane, and it's almost suffocating to imagine the potential outcomes of this current state of affairs on the world. So it is remarkably refreshing to have someone like Dave re-emerge and just speak his mind.

When he hosted that episode of Saturday Night Live, after Trump was elected...I remember feeling that same type of comfort. Like I knew that things were unstable...but I also knew that there were still a lot of great, and positive things in the world. A lot of critical thinkers. A lot of people who were clear-headed and acutely aware of the bullshit...but were also moving, and speaking strategically.

Comedy, and entertainment, and celebrity have a role in society. And just like journalists and scholars, these artists often reflect our world back to us, and remind us of who we are and who we aspire to become. What we hope to see.

In the strangest of ways, seeing Dave Chappelle emerge back on the scene (with a bang), has been one of the most comforting and satisfying occurrences in a good while. Somehow encouraging. Because he survived the negative press, and the rumours, and the speculation, and the fragility of his career. He waited. He lived. He learned. He moved at his own speed. And in life's perfect order, he came back to what he loves most--making people laugh--and he did so at a time when "America" and the world of entertainment needed it most.

By returning to the public eye now during this disgusting era of Trump-ness, and by adding his unique voice to the global conversation...Dave has proven to be an outstanding mind and a trusted familiar voice, among the unstable media "spin" and illusion. That is what makes him a genius. In comedy, timing is everything

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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