The night before Dave Chappelle’s first traditional stand-up specials in nearly 15 years hit Netflix, his name started trending on Twitter. Tens of thousands of tweets were shared by the time Deep in the Heart of Texas and The Age of Spin were released at 3:01 a.m. ET, at which point the social media platform exploded with fans’ smartphone-captured images and videos of the films playing on their televisions. This means a lot of people either stayed up late, or in my case, woke up a few hours earlier than normal to catch the Chappelle’s Show creator’s first comedy hours since 2004’s For What It’s Worth.
Were either Texas or Spin worth the 2:50 a.m. alarm and two cups of coffee’s worth of caffeinated jitters before sunrise? Yes. Much of this has to do with the veteran comic’s noticeable absence from the filmed stand-up scene, to which Chappelle has surprisingly only made two prior contributions. The first, 2000’s Killin’ Them Softly, stands the test of time as one of the 43-year-old comedian’s best works. For What It’s Worth is quite good too. (Though not a typical stand-up hour, the 2005 documentary Dave Chappelle’s Block Party injects plenty of comedy into what is otherwise a concert film.)
Yet Texas and Spin‘s sudden arrival on Netflix — part of a monstrous deal reportedly worth $60 million (including a third forthcoming entry) — reintroduces Chappelle to the stand-up special world in a big way. For starters, it immediately doubles his oeuvre while adding him to a growing cadre of preeminent comedians — Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld among them — who’ve signed massive production and distribution deals with Netflix. What’s more, Netflix’s (and possibly Chappelle’s) decision to release Texas and Spin together — as a paired bundle not unlike an episodic series — offers viewers something totally unique: a stand-up comedy double feature.
As the film critic J. Hoberman attests, double feature cinema essentially “created the art of programming” and B movies during the 1930s and 1940s. The former resulted from theater managers’ need to pair like-minded, though not identical films together to fill otherwise empty seats. The latter offered easy options for said pairings. Aside from surviving drive-ins and special occasions, however, double features are nowhere near as popular today as they were then. Which is unfortunate, Hoberman notes, since “showing movies in dialogue encourages them to talk to each other even as it allows them to speak for themselves.” Doing so, he adds, teaches audiences to better appreciate what they’re watching and why they’re watching it.
Watching Spin (66 minutes) or Texas (63 minutes) by themselves will do precisely what Chappelle and Netflix intended simply by entertaining viewers. However, if you have two and a half hours of free time, experiencing both as a double feature won’t disappoint. You may even learn something about stand-up comedy. This all depends on what you already know and don’t know — not to mention the order in which you decide to watch them — but the end result will be the same. Longtime fans and newcomers alike will laugh and cringe as the comedian discusses Bill Cosby’s legacy and rape allegations, repeated encounters with O.J. Simpson, and racially charged police brutality. They’ll also peer into Chappelle’s creative process.