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Dave Chappelle gently defiant in Santa Rosa, fans enjoy every word

Beset by controversy but not contrite, comedian Dave Chappelle playfully taunted his critics Tuesday night from the stage of Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. But none of them were evident in the auditorium.

The sold-out crowd at his opening night performance was with him all the way.

Chappelle’s remarks about transgender people in his series of Netflix comedy specials, including 2021’s “The Closer,” sparked a walkout among some Netflix employees and led to outrage in the LBGTQ+ community that still has not abated.

“I get it,” he said at the beginning of Tuesday night’s show. “You don’t like the special.”

He revisited the issue at the end of the performance saying, “If you ever see a trans person in trouble, help them. Tell them Dave said, ‘Hello.’”

Remembering his boyhood hero, TV star and celebrity Mr. T, Chappelle proposed we all should take the letter “T” away from the transgender community “and give it back to its rightful owner.”

Last week, during a show in Minneapolis, he referred to the viral disease monkeypox as a “gay disease” and labeled protesters outside the performance as “transgender lunatics,” The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

During Tuesday’s show, his only reference to monkeypox was linked to a long anecdote about the man who, in May, charged the stage at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles during one of Chappelle’s performances.

The man later told the New York Post he found the show’s content “triggering.”

“If somebody tries to kill me ... I hope he gets monkeypox,” Chappelle said. “I don’t want him to die. I just want his butt to itch for six weeks.”

Dropping F-bombs and N-words freely, he didn’t limit his choice of targets. Assessing the sorry state of the world, he urged everyone to pull together.

“I know white people very well,” Chappelle said. “If they’re not happy, no one else is going to be allowed to be happy.”

He spent a large part of his hour onstage, after two opening acts, talking about his wife and kidding other comedians.

Tuesday’s show was the first of Chappelle’s four sold-out performances at the LBC. He is scheduled to perform again at 7 and 10:30 p.m. tonight and at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Last week, after his shows were announced, the venue reported 6,364 tickets had been sold in eight hours.

Still, as of Tuesday evening, the LBC also had received 39 complaints by voicemail and email. In addition, an online petition seeking to stop the Santa Rosa performances had collected 557 signatures by Wednesday morning.

Outside the theater before the show, hundreds of people waited for the doors to open.

Noticeably absent were any indications of protest. Chappelle’s fans loyally voiced their support for the comedian.

Ukiah resident Kim Shepard said she had been a ticket girl at The Improv in Irvine from 1988 to 1991. She recalled meeting comedians Jerry Seinfeld, David Spade and Dennis Miller.

Now 54, she said she became a fan of Chappelle’s about five years ago when Netflix began showing his performances. She said she was determined to get tickets to Tuesday’s show.

“I will cry because I wanted to see him forever. He’s brilliant,” Shepard said.

Having paid about $450 for two tickets after taxes and fees, she was joined by her 22-year-old son. She said her 25-year-old daughter had no interest in attending because of Chappelle’s controversial material.

Shepard, however, defended Chapelle’s performances and stressed that he makes people think about what’s happening around them.

“He’s talking about current events and what’s happening around the world,” she said, adding that people shouldn’t criticize the comedian without watching his shows and understanding the context.

Dragonfly De La Luz has been a fan of Chappelle’s since his sketch comedy show, “The Chappelle Show” and she’s attended six of his stand-up performances before Tuesday’s.

She was attempting to scalp tickets when she learned the box office still had six tickets left. She snatched them up.

De La Luz said she supports the LGBTQ+ community. She added that she studied feminism in college, her brother is a “drag king” and her sister is in a same-sex marriage.

She said she may roll her eyes at some of the things Chappelle says, but she doesn’t believe he’s transphobic.

De La Luz believes phobia implies Chappelle fears the trans community, but he is asking questions about the community in comparison to Black people’s struggle for civil rights in America.

“Comedians will make jokes that involve other cultures or races or ethnicities. I don't think that that means they're ‘punching down’... I think a lot of what Dave Chappelle does is simply compare movements and ask questions about the progress that those movements have made.”

Staff Writers Colin Atagi and Chase Hunter contributed to this article.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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