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Dave Chappelle at the Warfield (Review)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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Chappelle's subversive humor breathes life into ailing artform

Dave Chappelle
The Warfield, San Francisco
Feb. 15, 2003

Every now and then, during those dark periods in which American entertainers seem to have fallen into one giant collective funk, it is fashionable for critics to proclaim that one art form or another is dead.

If you believe the hype, youd know that rock 'n' roll has made several trips to the morgue, only to be resuscitated by some brash youngsters who must have believed Neil Young when he insisted that rock would never die. The American musical has needed CPR to survive on a few occasions, and who can forget that dire day when fickle pundits prematurely announced the passing of origami?

Since Eddie Murphy's ascension to fame as a leading man, the death of brilliant funnyman Sam Kinison and the baffling rise and mercifully quick fall of Andrew "Dice" Clay, it has become trendy to lament the death of standup comedy.

Never mind the return of Jerry Seinfeld, who has been showcasing new material during an ongoing national tour since early 2001, or the burgeoning success of "alternative" comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt. Or, for that matter, the emergence of 30-year-old Dave Chappelle, the hilarious Washington, D.C., native who paid a visit to the Warfield Theater on Saturday night for two sold-out engagements on his Blackzilla tour.

Chappelle, star of the defunct ABC sitcom Buddies, the 1998 film Half-Baked, and, most recently, the Comedy Central series Chappelle's Show (Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m.), doesnt bring the same manic energy to the stage that distinguished comic legends like Murphy and Richard Pryor. Indeed, Chappelle is more laidback, his tone often more understated. He rarely raises his voice, and his manner and visage reveal an endearing mix of world-weary resignation and perpetual bemusement.

Don't let that pleasant, nonthreatening appearance fool you. Chappelle's wit is as quick as it is razor sharp, as evidenced by his two 90-minute performances at the Warfield. Whether discussing the war on terrorism, the origin of the AIDS virus, the secret ingredients in McDonald's hamburgers or the hazards of cursing at Disney World, the lanky standup kept fans doubled over with laughter throughout the evening, as he mixed tales of a racist, chain-smoking Mickey Mouse with sweet memories of nights spent in front of the TV, engaging in acts of self-love while watching infomercials.

Most of Chappelle's tirades are laced with profanity, though his comedy is hardly reliant on the shock value of R-rated language. For that reason, it's an almost impossible task to recount his best riffs in a family newspaper. Even so, it's safe to say that his "Blackzilla" material was fresh, his presence commanding without being overbearing, and his pace quick enough to ensure that there wouldnt be many lulls between laughs.

So perhaps standup comedy isn't so dead, after all. At present, there are no professional funnymen capable of selling out massive arenas and stadiums -- the kinds of venues that could barely contain the likes of Murphy and the Diceman. But, as nearly 5,000 Bay Area fans can attest, Dave Chappelle is doing just fine in the theaters, and his audience seems to be growing. -- Rossiter Drake

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