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Review: Chappelle delights Shea’s crowd with humor and humanity

It sounds clichéd to say, but to truly realize how sharp, clever and intelligent Dave Chappelle is as a comedian, you had to be there. “There” was Shea’s Performing Arts Center, where Chappelle performed two shows to a sold-out audience Sunday.

Much has been said about the concert’s “no cellphone rule” prior to the show. The rule was printed on the tickets, patrons were told to place their devices in an electronically sealed bag as they entered, and multiple warnings were said before Chappelle came out. But in a time when a celebrity’s every word and move is recorded for digital prosperity, Chappelle has managed to make sure the only way you get to laugh at his jokes is to pay your money and get inside the room with him.

And folks, it’s totally worth it. Forget about the stories of Chappelle walking away from his Comedy Central sketch show at the height of his fame and earning power, forget the tales of the comic bashing Hartford, Conn., and forget the legends of five-hour comedy sets. The only question about a standup comedian we should care about is: “Is he funny?”

Judging by Sunday’s first performance, Chappelle is one of the funniest and best comedians working today. Over the course of an hour, Chappelle had thousands roaring during his set, and I personally was exhausted from laughing so hard. What makes Chappelle stand out so much is how thoughtful his material is, finding the humanity in each subject while making it devastatingly funny.

As an example, Chappelle wandered into transgender politics, a topic that is currently being debated across the country and one I’ve personally seen derail many top comedians during their sets. I’ve often seen lesser comics talk about transgendered people with barely concealed anger, but when Chappelle brings up Caitlyn Jenner posing naked on the cover of Sports Illustrated, his joke is not about Jenner but the poor reader just looking to keep up on sports.

Toward the end of the show, Chappelle talked about his relationship with Prince, who was the subject of one of the most hilarious and beloved “Chappelle’s Show” sketches. Their relationship grew after Chappelle walked away from the show, and the comedian talked about the bond they shared. The last few minutes were more touching than hysterical, as it became clear these two black entertainers connected by reaching a level of fame few could dream of, all the while fighting to protect their artistic integrity.

Many people wished to see Prince perform in concert. If you weren’t at Shea’s Sunday, make sure to catch Chappelle next time he’s in town, because the comedian is at that level.

The Atlanta-based DJ Trauma acted as the host for the evening, spinning records prior to the show. Trauma also pumped up the crowd just before Chappelle walked out, asking the audience to stand as he spun several dance tracks to create a house party atmosphere.

Arab-American comedian Mo Amer was the terrific opening act of the show, with sharp material about the difficulties he faces daily because of his background.