Dave Chappelle’s ‘Meltdown’ Not Only Not A Meltdown, But Also Not Unreasonable

Reports that Dave Chappelle had a “meltdown” on stage in Connecticut last night have piqued fans, as many have been worried the long-silent comic’s comeback would be short-lived.

In case you missed it, Dave Chappelle dropped totally from the public eye at the height of his fame, for reasons that were at the time not well known.

In the intervening years, Chappelle’s absence has been much lamented by fans, but the comic seemed resolute in not returning to the spotlight no matter how hard everyone asked.

When it was revealed that Dave was signing on to the Oddball tour and doing stand-up again in something other than short and low-profile bursts, people were cautiously optimistic we’d see more Chappelle in the future.

But today, reports that Chappelle responded poorly to hecklers circulated, and many speculated that the comic’s aversion to the pop culture and media hot seat was flaring up again.

Blogger Latanya Barrett told the Hartford Courant that Chappelle seemed unenthused by hecklers, a standard part of stand-up comedy:

“He was on stage for… 25 minutes. For the first five or 10, he actually did go into his routine, telling a few jokes. It was a typical crowd, yelling out the occasional ‘I love you’ or something random… But every time anyone would scream anything, he would stop speaking and tell us how awful we were… It was just a regular crowd… I didn’t understand why he was doing this.”

Slate notes that while many audience members became agitated that Chappelle wasn’t doing his greatest hits from the show he headlined and grew to resent for its uncomfortable popularity. The comic later recalled being accosted by fans, demanding he “do” characters from the show on the spot.

Ebony digs deeper, contextualizing Chappelle’s Hartford show with a bit more background, as well as a more detailed look at the idea of a Dave Chappelle “meltdown.”

Writer Lesli-Ann Lewis explains that Chappelle’s reaction was not only not tantrum territory, it completely meshes with the comic’s stated discomfort about satirizing race versus cheap minstrl humor.

She writes:

“There is a long history of asking African-Americans to endure racism silently; it’s characterized as grace, as strength. Chappelle’s Connecticut audience, made up of largely young White males, demanded a shuck and jive. Men who seemed to have missed the fine satire of the Chappelle show demanded he do characters who, out of the context of the show look more like more racist tropes, than mockery of America’s belief in them… When he expressed shock at the fact that he’d sat there and been yelled at for so long, people yelled that they’d paid him. They felt paying for a show meant they could verbally harass him, direct him in any tone of voice, as though they’d bought him.”

And so it seems initial reports of a Dave Chappelle meltdown totally left out the part described so uncomfortably in the Ebony takedown — a crucial element to the story that doesn’t support the notion the comic was oversensitive or unreasonably annoyed.