Hackney Empire Theatre,
Review date: 3rd June 2019
Promoter: Live Nation
To speak or not to speak that is the question and by speaking do you dare risk the wrath of the Thought Police and the politically correct? This has been pre-occupying Dave Chappelle and his opinion on the theme of freedom of speech formed the bedrock of the latest show from the American comedy superstar.
The strong criticism he’s faced from some of his previous shows in the context of the #MeToo movement clearly provided much food for thought. Did he choose to steer away from hot button topics and play it safe? Defiantly and definitely not was the answer. Chappelle dived straight in with near the knuckle jokes about the #MeToo movement. He asserted his support for the movement whilst objecting to and suggesting that their strategy needed re-thinking in order to build, not alienate male support. He argued that with more men on board the movement would gain even more traction.
He referred to the time he was directly caught up in the equal pay row raised by comedienne Mo’ Nique when she railed against the £500,000 she was offered for her Netflix stand up comedy special in 2018 compared to the £20m Chappelle and Chris Rock were getting for their respective shows. He had her back up until the point she brought him into the equation by comparing his fee with hers and more specifically the timing and precise nature of her request to viewers riled him. His acerbic, irreverent response was both unexpected and waspishly funny.
Sexual abuse allegations against high profile pop stars featured heavily and his take on the likes of Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson and R Kelly were refreshingly original, honest, totally un-PC, yet highly amusing, whilst making it very clear he does not condone sexual abuse. He unpicked and poked fun at the absurdity of some of the claims made against these men. As ever context is everything and on stage at the Hackney Empire, a venue he said he’d always wanted to play, he made clear he was purely having fun at his fellow superstar’s predicaments.
He was full of praise for Kevin Hart – his work ethic and talent that’s got him to where he is and evidently felt bad for him that he was forced to forego his Oscar’s hosting role this year, due in no small part he stated ,to a gay (according to Chappelle) Blogger (Jonathan Weiner I presume) who “outed him” with releases of old tweets from 2010 which were deemed homophobic. It is for this reason Chappelle jokingly (I hope) said he hates Bloggers … maybe that’s why, Kevin Hart and Chris Rock ban mobile phones at their shows! When I heard that I stormed angrily out of Hackney Empire! Well not quite… as I’m made a sterner stuff and stayed put to watch the rest of the show.
I’m glad I did for Chappelle was on great form, delivering a good 1.5 hours or so of comedy. It was insightful, bold, confident and frequently funny in its strident, no nonsense brashness. What was admirable was that he wasn’t just saying things for shock value but he could back up his opinions with clarity and reason if he felt the need to explain himself.
It was of note that this show coincided with the visit of “his” President Trump to London. There are similarities between them – both shoot from the hip, saying whatever’s on their mind – regardless and don’t have much time for political correctness and feel they should be free to speak as they see it without negative consequences.
During a segment of the show with Kojo Amin, runner up on last Sunday’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) final’, he took a series questions from Kojo and the audience. This revealed an interesting explanation regarding why he avoids performing in arenas. Whilst this segment generated some context to his material and some off the cuff jokes, it took a while to get into its stride and wasn’t entirely successful. It seemed under cooked with Kojo seemingly not quite knowing what his role was. Was he there to tell jokes, be the butt of Chappelle’s or interview him? Well he didn’t tell jokes and Chappelle did tease him a little and allow him to facilitate the Q&A. He also praised Kojo’s ability, longevity and warmth shown to him over the years when he’s visited England. It was nice hearing his words of comfort to Kojo on missing out on winning BGT recalling how he once was runner up in a TV talent show many years ago, but it’s not exactly held him back. Who remembers the winner of that show he asked? No one!
There were a couple of hecklers who were a bit of a pain but he seemed quite cool about them. I think many would have preferred if they’d kept their thoughts to themselves, be ordered to pipe down or be thrown out by security.
DJ Cipha Sounds (famous in New York don’t you know) provided good entertainment to get the audience ready for the main man. I loved his selection of music for the audience warm up and the sing a log’s he got started. That worked very well and he had the crowd in the palm of his hands.
South London support act Travis Jay delivered a brilliantly innovative and highly topical set on the woes of former Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua who had just lost his 4 heavyweight belts in New York’s Madison Square Gardens in the early hours of Sunday morning (1st June 2019). I know he loves his boxing so this was an impressive indeed – almost as impressive as Andrew Ruiz’s shocking victory! I also loved his material regarding being a father of two.
I hope Chappelle doesn’t hate all Bloggers – well not me anyway for this was a great show – I don’t care about the others Bloggers!
© Tiemo Talk of the Town