When Dave Chappelle makes a comeback, he really comes back: Two-hour-plus standup specials premiere on Netflix today, and they’re both very good, one better than the other. The first, titled The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium, was filmed in Los Angeles in 2016; the second, titled Deep in the Heart of Texas: Live at Austin City Limits, was taped in 2015.
The range of subjects discussed in these two performances is dazzling: from O.J. Simpson to the Care Bears; musings on racism, homophobia, rape, and transgender rights; two stories about having things thrown at him.
When he went on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Kimmel tried to get a confirmation out of Chappelle about the rumored $60 million he bagged as part of his Netflix deal, which also includes a third special expected to be released later this year. Though Chappelle didn’t really confirm or deny the $60 million figure, he did offer some hilarious insight. “I learned from the last time,” he said. “I just learned, you know, I would rather people didn’t know, but I kinda don’t care.”
Chappelle’s style remains familiar to us from his Chappelle Show days and previous comedy specials: deceptively loose and languid, he ambles around the stage talking in a relaxed drawl, his tone tightening up primarily when he’s imitating white voices.
The Age of Spin’s other remarkable set piece is about Bill Cosby. Again, Chappelle is devastating to the man who has allegedly committed heinous crimes, but Chappelle also insists that we understand just what a force for good Cosby was for so long, to millions of people of Chappelle’s generation. It’s a very delicate comedic needle to thread, and Chappelle does it without stabbing himself.
The Austin special is dated, with material about the Ebola crisis and the infamous Ray Rice tape, and Chappelle seems a little more weighed down by headlines about police shootings: “It’s a tough time for the blacks,” he intones more than once. Nevertheless, the banana peel story — Chappelle says he had one thrown at him during a concert in Santa Fe — is a solid chunk of material that showcases the comedian’s ability to get inside the minds of other people to figure out what motivates them. Even hecklers with banana peels.
There are some viewers of these specials who are going to take offense at Chappelle’s politically incorrect thoughts about society’s current definitions of masculine and feminine. That’s what makes daring comedy so stimulating.