Comedian Dave Chappelle’s 7 p.m. stand-up set Monday at the Neptune Theatre was funny and intermittently tense without clear highlights, a meandering, conversational performance, which the legendary comic could at this point call his own genre. He covered topics such as race and class, poked frequent fun at the grain quinoa (“It can’t fix everything”) and chastised Seahawks fans who overestimate their influence on games’ outcomes (“You aren’t on the team”).
This is a comeback time for Chappelle, known for his aughts-era “Chappelle’s Show” sketch-comedy program, which he famously quit despite a rumored $50 million contract. His body is more muscled now and his presentation more visibly self-conscious, but he’s working out the kinks. Smoking cigarettes, he was casual in a tank top and jogger pants with one leg up, LL Cool J-style.
One notable bit was entirely devoid of humor: the quiet section when he expressed sadness and equanimity about the recent rash of shootings of unarmed African-American teenagers in America — including deaths in Missouri, Florida and California.
“You’re not allowed to shoot us if you’re mad,” he repeated, about the police officers and other shooters. “But I’m not a cop-hater, either,” he said, sympathizing with officers, who have stressful jobs and “a high occupational suicide rate.”
In a media world of pithy sound bites and extreme positions, Chappelle doesn’t play the game. He simply said we are living in “a [expletive]-up time,” then let silence hang in the room. He said people tell him all the time he should go to Missouri and perform for the mourning local communities, but he refuses, feeling that would be inappropriate.
The rest of the show was light and dexterous: 90 minutes of riffs on current events, crowd work (“You’re young, sir, and you have an outstanding mustache”) and supreme improvisational ability. He would perform again at 9:30 p.m. the same night and complete 10 total sold-out sets in Seattle before the next tour stop in Lincoln, Neb.
At one point he asked the crowd for requests, and responded to “Weed!” with a story about how even though marijuana was legal in Seattle, someone had whispered a proposition to him on the street — then charged him the high-tax retail price of “$13.82 for a gram.”
The rest of his set was hardly ever politically correct — especially his admirably earnest but clumsy jokes about gender and sexuality — but versatile and heartfelt and never boring. In the end he drifted, admitting he didn’t have a grand finale. You could say he killed, softly.