Going to a show by two of the greatest American comedians of our time turns out to be quite an operation. At the entrance of the Ziggo Dome, thousands of visitors are expected to store their smartphone in a closed phone case. And in the hall, a hip-hop DJ repeatedly shouts that recording and yelling at the artists on stage will immediately lead to evacuation. Given the controversies over the past year surrounding Chris Rock (57) and Dave Chappelle (49), this somewhat tense atmosphere at the start of the evening can be explained.
For those who missed it: During the Oscars ceremony last March, Chris Rock made a joke about the bald head of actor Will Smith’s wife. Smith then took the stage and sold Rock a humiliating slap in the face in front of millions of viewers.
Colleague Dave Chappelle, who immortalized himself in the early ’00s with his sketch show The Chappelle Show on Comedy Central, has been feeling the hot breath of the LGBTI community for years now, because he is not afraid to joke about transgender people. His latest Netflix special The Closer (2021) led to demonstrations at the streaming giant’s Los Angeles office. Employees resigned and even called for a boycott of Chappelle. To make matters worse, the comedian was attacked on a stage in LA last May by a bisexual man who he said had been “triggered” by his jokes (the comedian was unharmed). So the men were quite frightened, but apparently they also saw opportunities and decided to join forces for an exuberant world tour.
When the support act is introduced by the American comedian Jeff Ross, the atmosphere in the room is pleasant. We are surprised with performances by the British enfant terrible Jimmy Carr, the intrepid Asian-American Ali Wong and the hilarious Nathaniel Martin Stroman (better known as Earthquake). After a bold “speed-roast” by Ross with audience members, it’s finally time for Chris Rock.
Rock is dressed from head to toe in white, the image on the big screens next to the stage is black and white and his stand-up comedy is occasionally dated. First, Rock delves into the cancel culture, our “selective anger” (we still listen to Michael Jackson but not R. Kelly, while both singers have been accused of pedophilia) and our shameless appetite for attention on social media. They aren’t startling observations, but with its great timing and lashing, it’s a good laugh. Much to the delight of many, Will Smith also passes in review: ‘Did it hurt? Of course, that guy played Mohammed Ali!’ What follows next are a lot of pros; Rock is pro-abortion, pro-LGBTI community and pro-women in the workplace. However, he immediately negates the latter by saying that he wants to take care of a woman and she really shouldn’t have to work. Also, dating young women seems to be cheaper (twenties already keep you satisfied with a new pair of shoes) and female beauty is, according to Chris, the most powerful force in the world. Rock, who has been drawing full stadiums since the 1990s with his social observations and bawdy jokes, seems a bit stuck in his traditional ideas about women. Everything has to be said, of course, but that sometimes makes the material a bit archaic.
At 10.30 pm, armed with a pack of cigarettes and dressed in a black T-shirt, the self-proclaimed GOAT (‘Greatest Of All Time’) appears without frills. Dave Chappelle does not have a fixed repertoire à la Rock and meanders through a number of personal experiences and conversations with guests from the audience. Where Rock had to work hard to please us for an hour, Chappelle seems to rely on his own abilities. He fills the room with his self-mockery (“my career in America is going terribly at the moment”) and swagger (“all I know about European politics is that I want to fuck the Finnish president”).
Chain-smoking, he broadly discusses that he was attacked onstage and confesses his visit to a strip club, where his presence was recorded by a smartphone. His sons confronted him with the images at the dinner table the next day. No one is spared in Chappelle’s stories, not even his family and colleagues, only this time Chappelle is remarkably reserved about LGBTI people. He wants to move on, it seems, and just wants a night of fun with his audience. In particular with a beautiful Moroccan woman who, like Chappelle, turns out to be a Muslim (‘call your father, tell me I have forty goats for you’). Chappelle’s stand-up lacks a bit of a frame tonight, but that doesn’t hurt the intuitive comedian. He’s as fast as you’d hoped, unapproachable and still rising in his craft. More than worthy of a GOAT title.
Dave Chappelle & Chris Rock
Dave Chappelle, 7/9, Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam.
Chris Rock, 7/9, Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam