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Review: Chappelle opens Fillmore with Detroit apology

The comedian, who performs six shows at the downtown theater this week, addressed his infamous 2015 visit to the venue

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Dave Chappelle started off his show Tuesday night at the Fillmore Detroit — his first of six performances at the venue this week — by apologizing to the city of Detroit.

“So much has happened since we last saw each other,” said the comedian, who took the stage just before 8 p.m. “You guys were a very integral part of a conspiracy that made me rich and famous again.”

Some background: Chappelle’s last visit to Detroit was in April 2015, when he performed multiple shows at the Fillmore. One of those shows went horribly awry and made national headlines after Chappelle was slurring his words on stage and was booed by the crowd.

Fast forward to 2017, when Chappelle rolled out a pair of high profile specials on Netflix, the first of which he opened by talking about that Detroit show. He blamed the incident on bad weed given to him by an unnamed rapper — it later came out that it was Danny Brown — and the whole story recycled through the news.

So there was anticipation for Chappelle’s show on Tuesday, and he delivered a loose, casual show that often seemed improvised and focused on a conversational tone over scripted material. He was interactive with the crowd — maybe too much, as fans took to yelling topics and references to him from their chairs (“Tyrone Biggums!” shouted the lamest guy in the room) — letting them inform his direction before ultimately circling back to his point.

That point was focused on America in the era of Donald Trump, and the back half of the 80 minute show centered on America moving forward.

During that portion of the evening, Chappelle was seated on a stool and talked to the crowd in a wise, scholarly tone. It’s an air he’s taken on recently, and that’s the Chappelle that was on display when he hosted “SNL” last year on the first episode that aired after Trump’s election. During his monologue that night, he famously said America should give Trump a chance before rushing to judgment on him. “I (messed) up on that one,” Chappelle said Tuesday.

Chainsmoking cigarettes and sipping from a red Solo cup, Chappelle talked about America healing by not worrying about America and staying the course. “They blew up an Ariana Grande concert last night, that (expletive) was heinous,” he said. “But I’m here tonight, and you’re all here tonight.”

Earlier in the show, Chappelle compared himself to Detroit, saying the city’s bankruptcy was like when he lost his show on Comedy Central. He also worked through some prickly material on transgender people and radical feminism. “This crowd is weird, y’all feel like a jury,” he said, as some of his jokes drew mixed reactions.

But his material on race was on point as always, and his off-the-cuff remarks to the people seated closest to the stage revealed his razor sharp wit and timing.

Those jokes were fresh enough that every night of this week’s run — he’s at the Fillmore through Saturday, with two shows on Friday night — will likely be different from the one that came before it.

And that’s especially true for whichever show Danny Brown decides to attend.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama