Published on August 21st, 2012 | by Sharilyn Johnson1
Review: Dave Chappelle in Toronto
Six years after his last visit to Toronto, it was an older and wiser Dave Chappelle, performing infront of an older and wiser audience at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre on Monday night.
Counteracting the frenzied standing ovation that greeted him, Chappelle delivered in a calm, measured tone, giving the sense that if it somehow did turn into one of those infamous multi-hour marathon shows, it wouldn’t break us.
Chappelle started off his set talking about his decision to give up marijuana (Half Baked was filmed here, after all), and why he enjoys Toronto so much.
“All the fun of America, with none of the guilt,” he said.
After the pleasantries, the dominant theme of the set came into play: fame, and falls from it. He talked about others – Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, and Michael Richards’s racist rant at a Los Angeles comedy club.
“The black guy in me was furious…. But the comedian in me was like ‘shit, this nigga’s having a hard time’,” he said.
“I’ve had bad shows…. I’ve never had a show so bad that I had to meet Jesse Jackson the next day.”
But it was his own experiences in the public eye that informed most of his material, and he openly acknowledged that some in attendance were hoping he’d have a breakdown on stage.
Early in the set, he referenced his infamous departure from Chappelle’s Show. He explained how much money he lost by walking away from it, with a mock what-have-I-done uncertainty in his voice when weighing the difference between the $10 million he had in the bank, and the $50 million he could have had.
He philosophized that the true challenge of being successful is maintaining some sense of restraint even if you have a billion dollars, and how useless the power of positive thinking really is.
Even when Chappelle talks about the worst parts of fame, like internet commenters trashing his family, the scenarios aren’t to gain sympathy, but to gain traction for the joke that follows.
There was never a sense that Chappelle is unhappy with the spotlight – or on the flipside, validated by it at all. This was just his reality, and part of that reality is realizing how intrigued we are by his journey: whether that be his travels to Africa, buying a $450,000 house in China, or getting a phone call at home from Barack Obama. He gets it, and he delivers.
Not every story fully satisfied our curiosity. He told of receiving a VHS tape via FedEx, with only a post-it note reading “gotcha” on it. It was a sex tape from his younger days, and he said the FBI had to be called. The bit ended on one of the biggest laughs of the night, but he moved on without telling us how it was actually resolved.
For most of the show, he stood relaxed with his elbow resting on the mic stand, cigarette smoke rising through the spotlights. When he paused to take a drag, or just to think, the theatre was pin-drop silent.
This was, admittedly, by design. Upon entry, every audience member was told individually “no texting, no talking”, a pre-emptive strike against shout-outs of “I’m Rick James, bitch” from the balcony. But there seemed to be enough collective appreciation for simply being in the room, that nobody wanted to ruin the experience anyway (the three sold-out performances were announced just four days earlier).
The applause break after a nicely-timed callback was a textbook show-closer. Instead, he continued on to thank Toronto for being so good to him, and meandered through a short list of shout-outs. An awkward end. But at the same time, he’s Dave Chappelle, and he doesn’t have to actually close with his closer if he doesn’t want to. The audience leapt to their feet regardless.
Opener Gilson Lubin had the unenviable task of winning over Chappelle’s audience, but easily charmed the crowd with his tight set on suburban life, the culture shock of moving to Toronto from the Caribbean, and a brilliant observation on racism and candy.
A heads-up to those hoping to score tickets the remaining two Toronto shows: arrive early at the Winter Garden box office early, and you may get lucky. About a dozen tickets were sold to walk-ups at the very last minute on Monday night.