WHAT IT’S ABOUT Netflix will stream two Dave Chappelle concerts starting Tuesday, March 21: “The Age of Spin,” filmed at the Hollywood Palladium last March, and “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” filmed at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater in Austin in April 2015.
MY SAY Not including “SNL” last November and a few talk show appearances over the years, the last time a national audience caught Dave Chappelle was back in the mid ’00s in the waning days of “Chappelle’s Show.” He’d just signed a $50 million extension with Comedy Central, then abruptly walked away for good. The spin was that he was “crazy.”
Spin like that is tough to un-spin, but also demands corroborating evidence. That appeared to arrive in 2013 and ’15, when he was booed off stages in Hartford and Detroit. Of course, clucked the press (or maybe just TMZ). That’s Dave . . . he cray.
In fact, Chappelle dismissed the “crazy” talk back in 2005, when he told James Lipton of “Inside the Actors Studio” that quitting had been a creative decision, while the real lunatic was Hollywood: “Look at what is happening in Hollywood. The worst thing you can do is call somebody ‘crazy.’ . . . Maybe the environment is a little sick.”
This is a long drumroll for a review of Chappelle’s first national TV gig in 12 years but — just to keep the drum rolling a bit longer — this also marks his return to enemy territory, and is entitled “The Age of Spin.” A little payback for the old rumors, along with some counterspin of his own on that particularly crazy world? You already know the answer.
OK, there’s your drumroll. How was the show? With the Hartford and Detroit gigs as the baseline, it was spectacular. No boos, a lot of laughs, and all mostly earned. The prodigal Dave has returned.
With his 2000 show, HBO’s “Killin' Them Softly,” as another baseline for the best of Chappelle’s TV standup, this one’s right up there, too — not quite its equal, but close.
In a sprawling, material-packed 67 minutes, he addressed the Detroit fiasco (blaming it on “rapper weed” sampled before the show); “Dancing With the Stars”; “Making a Murderer;” a post-Oscars party in 2016; his wife; transsexuals; the LGBTQ community; millennials; Bill Cosby; another fiasco in Syracuse; Kevin Hart and . . . the “four times I met O.J.” That’s just for starters.
Race is the text or subtext of every joke. Rage, too. As usual, there’s plenty of raunch and a blithe disregard for politically correct discourse. The few transgender jokes were antediluvian, and deeply offensive. Chappelle didn’t care. The O.J. ones were dangerous too. He still didn’t care. Those even served as set breaks, introduced when he had carried some offense just a little too far.
His riff on Cosby demolished the disgraced comedian — then Chappelle reassembled the shattered pieces into a requiem for a heavyweight.
“Have empathy for . . . a 42-year-old black comedian,” he said of himself, by way of a near apology. “Obviously, Bill Cosby was a hero to me.”
There’s not a word of politics — never a Chappelle strong suit anyway — even though a colorful and chaotic campaign was underway during taping. That’s actually a relief. By now, we’ve heard it all anyway.
BOTTOM LINE Raunchy, offensive, funny.