Before Dave Chappelle Got Assaulted, He Hosted a Very Strange Night of Stand-Up

Right after finishing his last set at the 2022 Netflix Is a Joke festival in Los Angeles, Dave Chappelle was attacked when an audience member rushed the stage and tackled the comedian. But even before the assault, the evening was tonally strange—an incongruous event that at times felt more like a rally than a comedy show. 

Guests were instructed to stow their phones in Yondr pouches before the final presentation of “Dave Chappelle and Friends” at the Hollywood Bowl, a showcase hosted Tuesday by comedian and frequent Comedy Central roaster Jeff Ross. By the time my phone had been properly sequestered, Michelle Wolf, who hosted the short-lived The Break with Michelle Wolf, was onstage, in the middle of a joke about the lack of female world leaders. She was followed by British comedian Jimmy Carr, whose special His Dark Material is now streaming on Netflix. Carr eschewed the normal conventions of stand-up to read a series of offensive and “cancellable” jokes mostly pertaining to the trans community. “They’re jokes,” he said repeatedly in between punchlines, to the roar of the crowd. 

The evening continued to bounce between those two opposite impulses—progressive and conservative. Sebastian Maniscalco steered a careful path, mostly telling jokes about his wife but engaging in some softball, observational vaccine humor toward the end of his set. Comedian Earthquake also managed to avoid any overtly political material, sticking to jokes pertaining to Los Angeles and sex. After Earthquake’s set, Ross announced to the crowd that the recently deceased Bob Saget’s widow and children were in attendance, receiving a roar of approval from the fans.

Ross then introduced the most recent recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Jon Stewart. Stewart, like his friend Stephen Colbert, was evidently less concerned with telling jokes on Tuesday and and more concerned with railing against the government, continually returning to recent news regarding the leaked SCOTUS draft that would overturn Roe v. Wade. “What the fuck are we doing?” he repeated multiple times, clearly upset. Stewart said that he “wrote a bunch of stuff in the hotel” before launching into an emotional tirade about the state of democracy in America. “It’s over. You have to have babies,” he lamented, backed by a bright blue background—a stark contrast to the red screen which lit up behind Carr. 

Stewart continued on the political beat, telling jokes about the war in Ukraine while comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler. His progressive material, off-the cuff and not fully formed, didn’t seem to land with the pro-Chappelle audience in the same way that Carr’s did. Stewart did, however, get a big laugh when he used the word “faggot” in a joke about other rights that the Supreme Court might take away. 

Throughout it all, celebrities and friends of Chappelle watched and laughed. Singer Jessie J was spotted purchasing snacks early in the evening. Rapper Busta Rhymes and his entourage sauntered in after sundown and took their seats toward the front of the bowl. And a very enthused, cowboy hat wearing Jamie Foxx—who would later rush onstage and entertain the crowd after the assault—lovingly embraced Diddy and his crew when they entered the venue.  

After Stewart, the stage went dark and Chris Rock walked out on stage to a standing ovation, wearing all white. “I’m fine. I’m alright,” he said to the crowd, slyly referencing Will Smith slapping him at the Oscars. Rock’s approximately 30-minute set also focused on the state of democracy. He began by assuredly proclaiming that “America is almost over,” then went on to rail against the public’s “selective outrage”—often spouting the refrain “who gives a fuck?”

After Rock, the stage went dark again. Instead of the actual Chappelle coming to the stage, video footage of Chappelle accepting the Just For Laughs Festival’s comedy person of the year award played for a confused and slightly agitated crowd. The video, which showed an emotional Chappelle sincerely accepting the honor, focused on Chappelle’s undying love of comedians, specifically those who have died recently like Saget, Louie Anderson, and Gilbert Gottfried. The video then transitioned into an In Memoriam segment for comedians and artists that have died within the last year, including Halyna Hutchins, DMX, Biz Markie, and Paul Mooney.

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