A funny thing happened when Dave Chappelle ran away from the spotlight. He became a huge star. He was already popular, but when he disappeared in the middle of creating the third season of "Chappelle's Show" for Comedy Central last year, he shot straight to the big time.
Not many other comedians sell out shows within minutes and earn a standing ovation -- and I mean with every single person on their feet -- before even taking the stage.
It's ironic, because Chappelle has an uneasy relationship with fame, a subject he kept returning to during his show at Agganis Arena on Wednesday night. No one understands what it's like to walk away from a $50 million deal, he told the crowd, especially because it wasn't just money: It's like being offered $50 million, and as soon as you reach for it, someone flops his genitalia right on top of it.
The result, he said: ``I had a headache from showbiz."
Success, particularly as a black man, it seems, has put an incredible amount of pressure on the comedian. Some people have given him a hard time for living in the suburbs, Chappelle told the crowd, telling him he should be keeping it real by living in the 'hood.
But why should he have to put up with guys hassling him for a bite of his food every time he walks out of a pizzeria, he asked, when all he has to deal with in his white neighborhood is passive-aggressive locals telling him, ``The grass is getting a little bit long, don't you think, Dave?"
Race plays a huge role in Chappelle's humor, and he skewers black and white alike. At one point he told the white people in the audience: ``You're not even real white people. You're practice white people -- for game day."
Even when he followed this up by talking about the rich white people who ``own the patent on fire," it still didn't really make sense, but we were all in stitches just the same.
Chappelle, dressed in jeans and an olive-green T-shirt riddled with tiny holes, seemed quite relaxed during his nearly 70-minute set. He smoked a few cigarettes, sat back on his stool once or twice, and razzed people who were late getting to their seats. He claimed not to have any material, and, though he did tell some stories he's told before, he seemed to talk about whatever entered his mind. A lot of his subjects were real: his wife, his young sons, his trust issues. And for the most part, no matter what he said or did, it was funny. Chappelle's just got the gift, and he wants to keep giving it.
``I'm just taking a break," he said of his time out of the public eye, ``trying to think of something good. "
Despite all the signs plastered around the arena saying ``Heckling will NOT be tolerated," Chappelle tolerated the hecklers remarkably well. That the majority of them were calling out harmless things such as ``Happy birthday" (he turned 33 yesterday ) didn't hurt, although he did tell the person who yelled ``Rick James" to knock it off -- and then proceeded to do a mocking impression of his famous Rick James skit.
But merely being famous doesn't impress Chappelle. ``Celebrities are just a distraction," he said near the end of the show. ``Remember that when you see me on TV. I'm just a distraction."
Perhaps, Mr. Chappelle, but you are a most welcome one indeed.