The murmurs started earlier in the week. Dave Chappelle was hosting impromptu comedy sets in Ohio. The performances, held in an outdoor theater, were said to be loose, follow social distancing protocols, and vaguely resemble the variety show format of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. Thursday night, one of Chappelle’s sets from these shows was quietly released on Netflix’s YouTube account, titled 8:46 — the length of time that police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.
The comedy aspect of the 27-minute performance works whenever Chappelle goes for laughs. He makes a throwaway joke about Azealia Banks and curses out both Laura Ingraham and Candance Owens. His ability to make people crack up with nothing more than well-placed emphasis is on full display. But it quickly becomes clear that a real, raw conversation was much more important to Chappelle in creating this set than punchlines. The description of the video on Netflix says as much — “Normally I wouldn’t show you something so unrefined, I hope you understand.”
Halfway through his set, Chappelle goes even further in explaining his motivations for speaking up.
“The only reason people want to hear from people like me,” he says at one point, “is because you trust me. You don’t expect me to be perfect, but I don’t lie to you. I’m just a guy, but I don’t lie to you. And every institution that we trust lies to you.”
This agreement with the audience becomes something of an unspoken contract. The hometown audience is ready for whatever Chappelle wants to talk about. Every time he pauses to ask the crowd if they’re bored or want more jokes, the answer is a resounding “no.” In exchange for their attention, they get insight and truth from one of the nation’s foremost comedic voices during a time of uncertainty and upheaval. A man who feels the pain, anger, and outrage shared by so many Americans and synthesizes it into something genuinely powerful.
No one has ever been better at anything than Dave Chapelle is at being true
— michaelharriot (@michaelharriot) June 12, 2020