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.
Texas and Spin aren’t given separate landing pages. Instead, they’re combined into a single site and listed as separate episodes. So instead searching for and watching each special individually, Netflix subscribers click on the same link and choose which episode to watch. It makes sense in terms of organization. (And probably avoid potential confusion.) It also inadvertently programs the comedy double feature a certain way, as Netflix lists Spin first. This matters because Texas, which Chappelle filmed as a possible HBO special in Austin, Texas, preceded Spin by almost a full year. Chronologically, they trace Chappelle’s comedic development between April 2015 and March 2016, though Netflix’s presentation doesn’t make this immediately apparent.
This matters, as whether you watch Spin or Texas first will determine how you assess both individually and together — not to mention your opinion of Chappelle. Being a stand-up aficionado, I rebelled against the predetermined order and started with Texas. Doing so provided a window into the man himself — what he thought was funny in 2015 as opposed to 2016, which stories he wanted to tell, and those he chose to avoid. Like the issue of police brutality in Texas, which he jokes about passing off to Chris Rock, but ultimately addresses in Spin, which operates more like a George Carlin-esque comedy routine punctuated by commentary. Instead Chappelle spends his Austin gig discussing examples of pre-Donald Trump racial tension, his own sex tape scandal, and balancing his public persona with his private life.
Thematically, however, the decision to place the more recent hour before its predecessor makes sense. Texas ultimately feels like a regionally specific comedy piece, whereas Los Angeles’ Spin seems designed for a much larger audience. (At one point, Chappelle acknowledges the Los Angeles crowd’s diversity, though not as a knock to his Austin fans.) Texas begins with several quips about the city and state, as well as a story concerning a racist heckler’s banana-throwing antics in New Mexico. Spin, meanwhile, starts with Chappelle’s self-assessment of his career following the Chappelle’s Show exit, subsequent years off the radar, and a disastrous Detroit show in 2015. What follows dives all the more deeper into the comedian’s life after he left his hit Comedy Central series, like his multiple public encounters with O.J. Simpson before and after the infamous murder trial. Larger subjects like celebrity, fame and comedy itself account for Chappelle’s talking points here.
Perhaps the more accessible way to watch the specials, then, is in the order presented. Savvier fans may appreciate the chronological order more, but Netflix isn’t just trying to please comedy nerds. They’re also concerned with attracting a much wider audience who appreciates top-billed performers like Chappelle. Either way, the decision to combine Spin and Texas offers viewers a new model for watching filmed stand-up in a more informative way. One the streaming service’s burgeoning comedy output and existing algorithms already promote, as every time I watch a new special, Netflix automatically suggests possible followup options. This preexisting double feature scenario isn’t tailor-made like Chappelle’s, though all it requires is the push of a button.
Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin and Dave Chappelle: Deep in the Heart of Texas are available to stream exclusively on Netflix.