We think it’s pretty understood by virtually everyone in the game that Dave Chapelle is one of the most beloved comedic voices we have right now. He has the ability to go up onstage and absolutely annihilate in a way you wouldn’t have thought possible. And the thing is, he does so effortlessly, looking as if he’s got more that he’s not sharing with us.
Back in 2015, Chapelle hadn’t started the second wave of his comeback. He was doing stand-up more regularly again by this point, but he hadn’t hosted SNL yet or come out with any Netflix specials. And still, having Chapelle drop into your club and go onstage was one of the best things you could’ve had happened.
And that’s exactly what happened on January 19th, 2015 at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The story is told on Twitter by Kenny DeForest who hosted the Sunday night Comedy @ The Knit back then with Will A. Miles and Clark Jones. He had heard that Dave Chapelle was in town for Kevin Hart hosting SNL that week, and sent out a text to mutual friend Joyelle Nicole Johnson inviting Chapelle to go up. Well, a little while later, Chapelle sneaks into the club and they bring him up last.
Chapelle winds up asking the crowd for headlines from the news to riff on. This being days after the cop who killed Eric Garner not being indicted by a grand jury, there were some high tensions to say the least, with protests all throughout the city. Someone winds up shouting out “police brutality,” to which Chapelle replies “You really wanna do this? Okay.” He wound up talking about that and how it makes him scared for his children, adding “I thought body cams would help, but what good is video evidence if y’all don’t care?”.
It’s at this point that someone who DeForest describes as a “clearly privileged white girl” in a wide-brimmed hat shouts out “Life’s hard. Sorry ‘bout it!” Needless to say, after asking her to repeat herself for the now-stunned crowd, Chapelle goes in.
“He starts educating the crowd on the history of black people and the police,” DeForest says. “He talked about slave patrols and Rodney King and Watts and Emmett Till and Black Wall Street. He talked about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and he talked about John Crawford III[.]”
John Crawford the III was an Ohio black man who was shot and killed in a Walmart while he was holding up a BB gun that was for sale and someone called the cops. It was a really tragic moment that had happened after the days of Trayvon Martin. But for Chapelle, it was even more surreal.
Chappelle then tells a story about getting pulled over in rural Ohio where he lives. This is before the Crawford shooting but after Ferguson so racial tension is bubbling. He said “I may be white on paper, but I’m still black. So I’m nervous”[.] He says “the cop approaches and he can tell I’m nervous. I have both my hands on the wheel and I say ‘officer my license and registration is in the glove box. I’m going to reach for them now. I’m promise not armed’ I could tell the officer was offended that I was nervous. He said ‘I know who you are Dave Chappelle’ & I said ‘so why do you need my license and registration?’” He gets off w/ a warning. The twist? The same cop would go on to murder John Crawford III. His take away: “I shouldn’t have to be Dave Chappelle to survive police encounters”[.] He goes on to explain that one of his best friends is South African. He said “I asked him what it was like in South Africa right before apartheid ended and he said it was chaos in the streets. There were riots & car bombs etc, but the amount of people caring hit critical mass and there was nothing they could do to stop it. The people had momentum and apartheid ended. Critical mass. That’s what we have to hit. Once enough of you care, there will be nothing they can do to stop the change”[.]
After the show, everyone is in the green room when Joyelle Johnson comes backstage to tell Chapelle that the white girl from earlier wanted to talk to him, and Joyelle had told her no. Chapelle insisted that she bring her back into the green room. What happened next is where the story takes a fascinating turn.
Hat girl is humiliated and her friend even more so. Hat girl speaks first:
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry for what I said and thank you for educating me. I was ignorant before, but I want you to know I learned from you tonight and I won’t say things like that anymore”[.] Chappelle responds “you’re ok. That’s all we can ask. Know better, do better. I want to thank YOU for hearing me and listening. That’s your role. And now you know. Now you’re part of that critical mass we talked about and next time you hear a friend say some ignorant shit like you said, it’s your job to correct them and share with them what you learned tonight. THEN, you’re no longer part of the problem, you’re part of the solution.”
She starts crying and he pulls her in for hug “it’s ok. You’re part of the solution now. Do you want a picture?” She says “really?” And he says “of course! Friend get over here for a picture” the friend approaches, they take photos, he hugs them both and reiterates that it’s ok and just to be part of the solution and sends them on their way.
Chapelle wound up onstage for 90 minutes that night. Moral of the story is that 90 minutes changed that girl’s life and she (hopefully) never did something like this again. But this is an example of just how powerful words and even a comedian standing onstage talking can be. This is the sort of stuff that we all need right now. Thank you, Dave Chapelle.
My coolest night of comedy was when Chappelle dropped by @ComedyAtTheKnit when @MrWillMiles @theeclarkjones & I were still hosting. We were in the back room & he was in town supporting Kevin Hart hosting SNL. I texted @joyellenicole like “any chance Dave wants to go up?” THREAD
— Kenny DeForest (@KennyDeForest) June 3, 2020