Dave Chappelle was the unannounced opener for the Chris Rock–Kevin Hart double bill at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday night (July 23).
To Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” and wearing a white Nirvana In Utero shirt, the controversial comic came out smoking a cigarette without any introduction other than his white, green and red letter “C” logo on the LED screens. The capacity crowd greeted him with abundant applause and cheered whenever he brought up the topic of “cancel culture,” which was frequently.
“Had to sneak my way in here,” he opened, just days after he had to move a Minneapolis show to another venue after the initial space reportedly faced backlash for booking the comedian.
Chappelle assured the crowd that “despite what you may have read about in the news, I’m okay, and I appreciate the support.” He referenced the criticism he’s received since his Netflix special, The Closer, and he “gets it” but then added, “I already spent the money.”
During his 22-minute opening set, he joked about the surreal quality of getting attacked while onstage at the Hollywood Bowl in early May and yelled at his bodyguards for “wearing dress shoes on the job,” griping he would have been safer if they weren’t “sliding all over the place like at a bowling alley.”
He kvetched that Chris Rock was able to get the first joke in after the scuffle that night (“was that Will Smith?”) and then admitted his follow-up gag (“that was a trans man”) didn’t merely bomb, it “set up another two-day news cycle.”
His real fury came at the press, particularly the New York Post, for calling the attack “alleged” when the incident was captured on video. He also accused the paper of putting words in the man’s mouth, urging the man to say he was triggered by Chappelle’s material. The comic claimed he knew the lines were fed, because he spoke to the man backstage for himself and “all he could say was” — at which point Chappelle made “cuckoo” noises.
He added that he hoped his attacker gets monkeypox in jail — “not that he should die, but his ass should itch for four to six weeks.” Chappelle also claimed the first call he got that night was from Louis C.K., whom he later shouted out, saying, “Louis, even if you get in trouble in the streets, you are my friend.”
Chappelle handed the mic to Chris Rock who did an hourlong set, with Rock passing the mic to Kevin Hart. Both men brought up Will Smith a few times, though Rock leaned on the “cancel culture” theme a little harder. “Anyone who says words hurt has never been punched in the face,” was one line that brought the house down.
The night concluded when the three men appeared on stage for a 10 minute free-for-all. They ribbed one another and expressed sentiments of love and gratitude. “This doesn’t happen by accident,” Hart said.
Hart then said he had a gift for Rock, who is 14 years his senior, and presented him with a goat wearing gold chains. “I’m not taking care of that s—!” Rock shouted, as the arena seemingly vibrated with laughter. As Hart spoke sincerely about how he considers Chris Rock to be the Greatest of All Time, Chappelle interrupted to say, “this is the worst night of this goat’s life.”
Rock batted that away: “He’s just happy he’s not at a Jamaican restaurant!”
Around this time, the goat had an accident on stage. “How’s your first night in show business?” Chappelle asked, putting a microphone to the goat’s mouth. At the goat’s lack of response, he asked “what are we gonna call him?”
“Will Smith!” Hart shot back.
As things wrapped up, Chappelle turned down the volume for a minute to thank Hart and Rock for having his back. He said that comedians have a bond that only other comedians can understand, and “when my brothers call, I come running.”
The five night Headliners Only mini-tour kicked off at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on Long Island on Thursday before it headed to Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center on Friday. Sunday night the pairing heads to the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, before the jaunt ends at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Monday. Rock then continues his Ego Death tour through Nov. 19, while Hart’s Reality Check tour ends Sept. 8.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.