12 years is a long time to be out of the game, but Dave Chappelle would never forget how to play. Though he hasn’t recorded a live special in over a decade, Chappelle has toured and used footage from recent performances in his new Netflix specials.
In “The Age of Spin” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas” (both folded into one Dave Chappelle listing on Netflix), reviewers say he’s true to his comedy origins as critical observer, provocateur, and of course, wildly funny.
Complex — and often uncomfortable
Jason Zinoman, The New York Times:
That material appears to be older, with references to the Ray Rice, Paula Deen and Donald Sterling scandals. Some of his provocations, like a paranoid riff on vaccinations, seem less than fully formed; and the show loses its comic zest in some of his fogeyish umbrage over sensitivity to transgender people. But he does throw out some bar-stool arguments that work nicely as jokes. “I don’t think men should be gynecologists,” he said, calling it “a conflict of interest.”
Maureen Ryan, Variety:
“I live among the whites,” Chappelle says with a sigh more than once, and that sentence succinctly provides all the set-up that a number of jokes need. In both specials, his musings reflect the push-pull going on in the broader culture, the tug of war between the desire for — or the demand for — the recognition of different groups’ histories and struggles, and the plea of an exhausted adult who wants people to “get over themselves.” Whether it’s due to maturity or just a general state of being tired of the world’s shenanigans, Chappelle’s humor can drift toward dad comedy — “You have to Google s–t I lived through!” — but most of the time, his tales and punchlines display compassion for human frailty and confusion.
Ray Rahman, Entertainment Weekly:
As fans of his sketch show know, Chappelle is fascinated by discrimination, constantly taking stock of who’s up, who’s down, and who’s next. The taxonomy of hate bubbles up frequently in both sets. And he’s more than ready to deal with the fact that he himself, as a successful black celebrity, holds a unique place in all of this.
Angel Diaz, Complex:
The genius stand-up comics always make us uncomfortable. George Carlin challenged our personal views, Richard Pryor did the same with the same conversational style Chappelle has, Eddie Murphy did with his vulgar delivery. I believe Chappelle is in that conversation—frankly, he has been for years. He’s this generation’s most influential and important comic.
He takes on Cosby and O.J.
Jason Zinoman, The New York Times:
Still, it takes guts to close a show, as he does, with an argument for complexity in our assessment of Bill Cosby, and Mr. Chappelle’s daring, his insistence on challenging his audience, his eagerness to go there, is what makes the arrival of these specials such an invigorating — and possibly polarizing — event.
Maureen Ryan, Variety
Even more interesting — and painfully hilarious — are his musings on Bill Cosby, whom he identifies as both one of his most formative influences and also as a horrifying monster. It’s a testament to Chappelle’s skills that his musings about Cosby’s alleged rapes not only avoid the obvious landmines, but they also allow the audience, many of whom also grew up thinking of Cosby as a relatively benign cultural figure, the collective pressure-valve release of shocked laughter.
Sam Adams, Slate:
Chappelle spends more time discussing his relationship with O.J. Simpson. The stories of the four times they met form the spine of The Age of Spin. (Chappelle doesn’t draw a direct line from Simpson’s infamous “I’m not black; I’m O.J.” to his “I’m black, but I’m also Dave Chappelle,” but the comparison is there, waiting to be made.) Bill Cosby is another frequent presence, both as provocation and as another tarnished paragon of black success. Chappelle makes no bones about whether Simpson or Cosby are guilty, but he complicates their stories by listing their achievements.
Chappelle said that Cosby’s like a superhero that goes around town asking women if he can pat their vaginas in order to gain power to save people. The catch is, if said women refuse, he’s forced to rape them. Essentially, the punchline was how Bill saved more than he raped. Despite it’s obviously squeamish nature, that joke hit too.
He’s still unpredictable — in the best way
Rahman, Entertainment Weekly:
Heart of Texas is looser, even whimsical at times. Midway through the set, Chappelle lights a cigarette, sits on a stool, and delivers a surreal and winding story about a vagina in a boxing match. Some of the funniest jokes are about masturbation. He offers personal tales as well, riffing on his marriage, fatherhood, and an extortion attempt. The topic of Bill Cosby does come up again, though, as do other instances of disgraced celebrities — Ray Rice, Paula Deen, and Donald Sterling, to name a few.
The comic’s unexpected swerves and inspired segues are often the best thing about the specials: They add suspense, because you never really know what he’s going to say about Key and Peele, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart or the Care Bears, or where those comments will land on the sincerity scale (though it’s not a stretch to conclude that Chappelle really does love the Care Bears). Leaning against a speaker or perching on a stool, Chappelle looks utterly relaxed, and has the great, unforced timing of someone who knows exactly where his routine is headed and how he’ll get there.
Chappelle’s latest specials start streaming on Netflix March 21.