Day 11: Dave Chappelle

Each day in May I’ve been sharing a stand up set that I like. This weekend, I want to pass on a pair of classics. They aren’t standalone sets, since they’re coming from specials, but they’re so strong I wanted to talk about them. Here’s “How Old Is 15 Really” from Dave Chappelle and, while I think it’s able to make me laugh for many reasons, here’s just a few that stand out:

• THE CONTROVERSIAL ARGUMENT. I really enjoy when a comedian takes a stance that runs counter to prevailing thought. I’m placed into dicey territory, and seeing a comic then make the case for a questionable proposal gets me laughing out of nervousness and excitement. I think Chappelle walks this tightrope masterfully in this set. He establishes the tension with his question, and then systematically relieves it with personal and news stories. It’s like the very idea is on trial, and this is Dave delivering a closing argument.

• PAINTING A SCENE. I’ll laugh at good jokes and be intrigued by novel ideas. What distinguishes sets that give me a one-off laugh, though, from a set that gives me rolling laughs that I’ll replay over and over again are compelling scenes. Chappelle seamlessly weaves in and out of numerous scenes - the crowd being pissed on, the girl chewing through ropes, Elizabeth Smart deliberating, himself scrubbing urine off his body- while making his case. Some scenes are short and some are long, but they’re all so clearly portrayed, that I’m still drawn in today even after I know the jokes.

• POIGNANT FLIPS. When anyone makes a very serious point, it opens up the space for a very funny moment. It’s kind of like a slingshot — the more I’m pulled into drama, the opportunity to release me that much into comedy exists. Chappelle does this to me in this bit. He makes the poignant point: “And they gave a 15 year old boy life in jail.” I remember feeling a lump in my throat hearing that line, but Dave follows it up with, ”If you think that it’s okay to give him life in jail, then it should be legal to pee on him.” After a trenchant moment, he flings me into laughter with a hilarious statement and brings his argument full circle.