Back in June it was announced that Dave Chappelle would be embarking on a nationwide comedy tour — one that kicks off tomorrow in Austin, where he was heckled last year — and the world breathed a sign of relief as it had been far too long that Dave had been off the grid, so to speak. Well what has he been doing all these years since he walked away from Chappelle’s Show? New York Times comedy correspondent Jason Zinoman tries to answer that question in a new Kindle single titled Searching for Dave Chappelle. And he also a piece that will run in Sunday’s New York Times that was published online today that explores the evolution of the current act Chappelle is taking on the road.
Mr. Chappelle hasn’t done any interviews (aside from a radio appearance in 2011) or appeared on podcasts or talk shows. He doesn’t even have a Web site. He joined Twitter last year, then quit after 11 tweets.
But Mr. Chappelle has tiptoed back into the public eye over the last year. While he has stayed away from movies and television, he still drops in pretty often on comedy clubs and occasionally theaters, usually in surprise appearances that generate more rumors of a comeback. Beyond the Oddball Festival, Chris Rock has said Mr. Chappelle may join him on his stand-up tour next year. Since seeing him perform at the start of the year, I have noticed an increased urgency in his comedy by the summer. A show I saw in San Francisco in March was charismatic if chaotic: freewheeling, improvisational and full of crowd work. But when I caught three of his shows in June down South, his act was very different: polished, thematically unified, less work in progress than test run.
His characteristic laid-back delivery and pinpoint timing were in service of jokes that were more dark, intricate and revelatory than his stand-up from a decade ago. Seeing Mr. Chappelle evolve onstage was a reminder that he didn’t leave comedy so much as return home to the live form he has practiced for a quarter-century. Mr. Chappelle might have left television, but that departure has become the wellspring of his comedy now. He only needs a microphone and a stage to lay claim to greatness.
The dates and locations of Chappelle’s tour are here. Now watch Killin’ Them Softly and remember how incredible this guy is on stage.