Comedian David Chappelle abandoned his act in Hartford Connecticut Wednesday night, spending most of his contractually-obligated 25 minutes chatting and smoking cigarettes — ultimately walking offstage in response to jeers and abusive comments from the audience.
According to verified accounts, Chappelle was only on stage for a few minutes before he became frustrated with the crowd, asking them to keep quiet. He launched into a few more stories over jeers from the crowd, eventually saying, “I only have three minutes left. And when my three minutes is up, my ass is gone. I’m going straight the bank and doing night deposit.”
He then walked off the stage.
That’s where the differing versions of what happened come in. From the low quality videos that have surfaced on Youtube, audience members can clearly be heard yelling at him while he tells a story about Richard Pryor. The Youtube user who uploaded one of the videos labels the performance a “meltdown,” but others believe that it was the audience who was the problem.
Lesli-Ann Lewis attended the infamous performance and wrote about it in Ebony Magazine:
Being in that crowd, a sea of drunk White male faces and seeing Chappelle sit there and be jeered at made me uncomfortable. Heckling isn’t uncommon for comedians but often when a comedian as famous as Chappelle puts their foot down, it is usually respected.
While the racial makeup of the crowd was incidental, the way they treated Chappelle is not. It speaks to a long complicated history: the relationship between the White audience and the Black entertainer. This is a relationship you can easily trace to early minstrel shows, to archetypes of Blacks that still define the roles we’re offered today. We have seen more Black comedians bow to racist tropes, demean themselves—albeit unintentionally—for White audiences.