Maybe he was celebrating the record-smashing first-week DVD sales of the second season of his show, or maybe he just wanted to shake the rust off. Either way, Dave Chappelle surprised audiences in Los Angeles Wednesday night when he performed impromptu sets at a pair of legendary comedy clubs and poked fun at his recent disappearance.
Telling the audience he was coming straight from the airport, Chappelle hopped onstage at the Improv in Hollywood during the 10 p.m. show. "The audience was surprised!" said the Improv's Adam Devine about the stunned reaction of the crowd of about 200. "He just kind of walked in real casual and said he wanted to get in and out because he was on his way to the Comedy Store."
The room was already crowded for a show by "Reno 911!" cast member Carlos Alazraqui; when Chappelle took the stage, Devine said, everyone in the adjoining bar and dining room packed in to see the surprise set. The show was the first live appearance by Chappelle since he unexpectedly shuttered production on the third season of Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show" and fled to South Africa for a "spiritual retreat" in late April (see "Dave Chappelle Speaks: 'I'm Not Crazy; I'm Not Smoking Crack' ").
But the Improv blitz was just the appetizer. Chappelle then made his way over to a late-night show at the legendary Comedy Store, where the audience of 50 already thought they were getting a treat courtesy of a surprise appearance by '80s comic Andrew Dice Clay.
"Someone said [Chappelle] was here — that he'd just landed and wanted to do a set — and I called him a liar," said the Store's general manager, Dean Gelber. "Those people definitely got their $15 worth."
Chappelle, who has been doing stand-up for more than 15 years, had not played the Store in more than a year, and Gelber said he seemed excited to be back onstage. "My understanding is that he didn't do much stand-up after that because he was tied down by the show," said Gelber. "He's one of those guys who needs to be onstage. He's already really loose, but he was even more loose than I've seen him before."
Gelber declined to give any specifics about Chappelle's 80-minute set, explaining, "That's why people like to play here — we don't talk about what they do." But he did say that Chappelle acknowledged audience questions about where he's been and made a few passing references to his disappearance during the set, which mixed some of his classic bits with topical material. After the set, Chappelle hung out for a few minutes and took pictures with fans before slipping out as quietly as he slipped in.
A Comedy Central spokesperson said on Thursday that there is no update about when or whether production on the third season of "Chappelle's Show" will resume. Chappelle's spokesperson could not be reached for comment at press time.