[In addition to being a regular contributor here at Collider, Evan Valentine has also been doing stand-up comedy for the last decade. We asked him to review some of Netflix’s new specials given his own experience and viewpoint as a comedian]
Dave Chappelle returns to television with two, hourlong standup specials on Netflix. The first, entitled “The Age of Spin” was shot in LA and sees Chappelle jumping from topics involving O.J. Simpson to Kevin Hart to Making a Murderer. The second hour was recorded in Austin, Texas, and appropriately titled “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” In it, Chappelle tackles more personal issues such as his run-in with a car of racist snowball chuckers, issues with his son getting into fights, and the Ebola virus. Chappelle’s been gone from TV for long time, but has Chappelle lost any momentum from his time away? Luckily for fans of comedy and Chappelle himself, I can confirm he has not, and these specials are close to the best of what we’ve seen from the prolific comedian during his career.
To truly get a better understanding of these specials, you need to know about the history of Dave Chappelle. Following the splash success of his Comedy Central variety show, The Chappelle Show, Chappelle was asked to return for a third season for $50 million dollars. Tired of show business and seeking a new path in his life, Chappelle declined the offer and disappeared from the limelight. Of course the true irony is that with his return, he is reportedly being paid $60 million by Netflix to produce a series of one hour specials wherein he has complete creative freedom. It’s been ten years since Chappelle has been in the general public’s view, and that does really help with the material we see in both of his specials. Watching these specials feels like watching a brilliant time traveler step out of his time machine, analyze some of the events of the past decade, and weave them together in an easily digestible, utterly hilarious fashion before jetting off again.
Chappelle is easily one of the best standup comedians of our era, not even necessarily so much for his writing, but simply because of his fearlessness and comfort level. Comedians are always looking for a balance in “selling” their jokes to audiences, trying to walk a line of reading the room, delivering the material, and creating an image of casualness that can make patrons feel more at ease, thus connecting more with the jokes. Chappelle is able to do this in master strokes, and makes it seem as effortless as reflex mechanism. There’s a brief interlude during the second half of his Netflix outing, “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” where Chappelle asks the crowd for a cigarette, which causes a near deluge of them being thrown his way. As he lights up his first, he begins talking candidly with the audience about an experience he had during one of his shows and debated whether or not saying “pussy” was considered to be offensive. It’s a masterful moment as it seems to be a “bit” that is entirely off the top of Chappelle’s head, leading the audience through a discussion that ends up with the ludicrous premise of Lil Wayne investigating a crime scene.