Move over, Neil Munro. When Dave Chappelle performed a show at The Paramount Theatre in Austin, Tex. on Tuesday, he was largely unable to get through his set due to hecklers mercilessly interrupting the legendary stand-up comic.
Chappelle had booked the Paramount show only hours before and sold out the 1,200 seat theater in minutes, as is common for the comedian. Since abruptly leaving "Chappelle's Show" in 2006, citing mental exhaustion, he has stayed largely out of the media spotlight, performing mostly unpublicized gigs in New York City and Los Angeles. Austin audiences felt they were in for a treat.
Chappelle asked to be booked at the Austin theatre after a well-received show in Dallas that weekend.
Comedian Paul Varghese opened and specifically instructed the audience not to heckle Dave, who just last year made headlines for a refusing to tell jokes at a show in Miami after being heckled and videoed by fans.
As reported by Austin 360, the show was first sidetracked when Chappelle noticed an audience member in the front row recording his set. The comedian confiscated the recording device and remarked that fans' entitlement to record his shows was part of the reason he largely stopped performing stand-up.
That back-and-forth set off a chain reaction of many audience members yelling at Chappelle while he was onstage.
But Chappelle was allegedly far from antagonistic towards the unruly crowd; rather, he seemed to indulge in the rudeness. According to The Dallas Morning News, "...[W]here most performers loathe their hecklers, Chappelle welcomes them — encourages them even, using their random shout-outs to get him back on track when the wheels go wobbly."
That embracing of the crowd may have been the reason The Paramount failed to control the crowd or throw out audience members. The downtown theatre posted in part on its official Facebook:
When security was escorting a patron out that had been recording the show, Dave Chappelle said he should stay. He then chose to respond and include the audience in his show. This created a domino effect of audience “participation.” While we may not be in agreement with the choice, it was the artist’s choice to interact with the audience that we had to ultimately respect.
The way the audience reacted to the ramshackle set seems to be divided. A Reddit thread devoted to the show began with one user's opinion that "It sucked really bad. Both Dave and the crowd were at fault but I think it was mostly Dave."
But others disagreed. "Whether the show sucked really depends on your perspective and what you wanted out of it," said another Reddit user. "I went and had a wonderful time," noting that many in the audience were enthralled by the spontaneity of the night.
Of particular contention seems to be Chappelle's use of pauses, and his lack of prepared material in favor of ad-libs and crowd work. Indeed, the man who made headlines in 2007 for performing a six-hour set may be out of practice.
Andy Langer, a music writer for Esquire who resides in Austin, noted that Chappelle even admitted as such during his set. "This shit doesn't happen to Chris Rock. He has material," Langer quoted Chappelle as saying on Twitter.
No matter who is to blame, the consensus seems to be that since some audience members were less than respectful of Chappelle, the majority of polite show goers were cheated out of the show they expected.
Janet Pierson, one of the top programmers of SXSW Film and a leader in the city's arts scene, tweeted: "Austin audience obnoxious and embarrassing for Dave Chappelle @ParamountAustin. Weird & unsettling & unexpected."
The audience's behavior is especially surprising in light of Austin's reputation as a city with a notable comedy scene, including a healthy stand-up circuit and several improv theaters. The introduction of the first annual Moontower Comedy Festival, which brought some of the biggest names in comedy to Austin in May, is evidence of its typical respect of the art form.
As one disappointed customer wrote in a letter to The Austin Chronicle, "I would like to formally apologize to Mr. Chappelle. Sorry we wasted your time. Sorry we claim to love you, but have not figured out what that means."