“The times that you’re onstage with somebody of your level of success are very rare.” Though Chris Rock spoke in hindsight, those words were never truer than that mind-numbing moment when he got word that the “unicorn of comedy” Dave Chappelle was going to be making an obscenely rare appearance at NYC’s Comedy Cellar for a night that ultimately brought a who’s who of comedic heavy hitters to a project-kitchen-sized stage. The top-tier of joke-slingers peppered the audience and in one afro pick wielding drummer’s case (none other than our very own Questlove) the stage, setting the course for what was simply one of the most legendary nights of comedy in recent memory, if not the entire history of the tradition??
Aside from the mad-scientist of joke-slangin’, Marlon Wayans, Bill Bellamy and Kevin Hart all made appearances and simply on the whim of hearing that Chappelle was bringing the goods to a stage just outside of Washington Square Park. Not one held back in their secession that the blood, sweat and shame stained crown of comedy went to the night’s surprise performer. Amy Wallace (who wrote up D’Angelo‘s resurgence for GQ a year or 2 back) took the time to gather some words from this gleaming roster of entertainers to get a picture of what it felt like. Felt like–not just a member of that outrageously fortunate crowd–but one of the other pillars of contemporary comedy that were also able to bear witness to that majestic moment. While Chappelle’s mythology certainly doesn’t need any more hype, the fellas are united in their praise for the sultan of the stage, in recounting the night that brought all of the brightest lights in the game to one tiny stage in one tiny club in the West Village. Below you can find some words from those masterful wordsmiths, imparting some pretty poignant metaphors on their craft (with Rock comparing Dave to Prince and Wayans comparing him to Bigfoot) and the casualties of their voyage to the show. If you happen to be in NYC over the next few weeks, make sure you cop the hottest ticket in the city for Chappelle’s 8-night run at Radio City Music Hall, featuring guests like The Mighty Roots Crew, DJ Premier, Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu , and see for yourself.
Questlove on the set:
“Chappelle gets up and riffs for forty-five minutes about—who’s the guy with the prosthetic legs? Oscar Pistorius? Dave was talking about how Pistorius would be the least vulnerable guy in prison, because all he has to do is scrape his legs on the steel bars every night. He started making this sharpening noise, and we were just done, all of us.”
Kevin Hart on Dave’s skill as a comedian:
“Me and Chris were joking about how Dave was just so much better than us—the thought process behind his jokes. How he makes it look effortless. We were all doing the same thing—running material we were working on. We were pretty much all in the gym—basketball players getting our jump shots. And Dave’s way of doing it was just levels above. He’s in a different realm. He’s out of this world, man. Ridiculous.”
Bill Bellamy telling stories from yesteryear:
“It was organic. I knew it was magical, based on the reactions of the people at the Cellar. They were like, “Oh, my God!” I told a story about one time, Dave was standing outside my club looking lost, just a little skinny kid from D.C., not famous yet. And he needed a ride home. And I gave him a ride back to New York. I had this real fly car at the time, a brand-new Acura, and he was like, “Man, when I get rich, I’ve got to get me one of these.”
Chris Rock on the magic of having them all in attendance:
“I’m a hanger backer, anyway, in life. I’m the oldest of seven. So I’m used to letting my younger brothers do whatever they’re gonna do. I was literally just enjoying the moment. You know, we’re not musicians. We’re not in a band. Comedians, if you get good, you’re always out there by yourself. Stand-ups are boxers. They generate the most excitement of anyone in sports, and they have the saddest endings. People wonder why guys get really famous and stop doing stand-up. It’s fucking lonely. The times that you’re onstage with somebody of your level of success are very rare. The other thing is we’re all grown-ups. If this had happened twenty years earlier, there might have been a fight onstage. But now everybody’s been married. Everybody has kids. Divorces. We’re all very secure in who we are. That was an essential element. The evening would not have happened without that.”
Chappelle on his star-lined audience:
“I had no idea all those guys were going to be there. You know, comedy is surprisingly competitive. It’s like being in the Karate Kid tournament every night. I’ve known these guys for years and have always respected their talent, but on that night I got to experience it up close. That’s why it was special. But it made me laugh that Ahmir told his date he needed to go to the studio. Why didn’t he just bring her to the show?”