In Dangerous Times

Earlier this week Dave Chappelle was ending a show at the Hollywood Bowl when he was assaulted by a man who came up on stage and tried to tackle the comedian. The attacker, who was armed with a fake gun that contained a knife blade, was subdued by security as Chappelle finished his show. Ironically, during the show Chappelle had apparently just been joking about having increased security in the wake of the Will Smith-Chris Rock-Oscars incident, and Chris Rock–who was at Chappelle’s performance–came on stage and jokingly asked Chappelle whether the assailant was Will Smith.

We can tip our caps to Chappelle and Rock for their faithful adherence to “the show must go on” tradition in show business, but the attacks on performers obviously aren’t funny. The Hollywood Reporter has published a piece headlined “Nobody’s Safe: Dave Chappelle Attack Raises Concerns For Performers” that addresses the incidents that reflect the increasing risks involved in performing in public. The concern is that the invisible but previously respected barrier between the stage and the audience has been breached, and that performers now have to be wary of the possibility of being physically confronted by some lunatic every time they go before the public to do a show. While that is a risk for any live performer, the risk is greater for a comedian, who is up on stage, alone, and might just make a joke that some unbalanced person in the audience finds personally provoking. And the Chappelle incident, coming on the heels of the Will Smith-Chris Rock assault, raises heightened concern that copycats might be lurking out there, ready to charge the stage at any comedy venue.

Chappelle, who is a real pro, issued a statement after the attack saying that he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.”  I hope that turns out to be true, and that performers everywhere continue to perform before live audiences, albeit with enhanced security and greater attention to their safety. There is a certain magic in seeing a live performance that simply can’t be replicated in a Netflix special, and I would hate to see that lost. But if these kinds of incidents continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if some performers decide that live acts just aren’t worth it. In dangerous times like these, who could criticize them for being unwilling to take that risk?

Hollyweird

I haven’t watched the Academy Awards broadcast in decades, so I didn’t see the slap incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock that happened Sunday night. Of course, that incident ended up being the focus of news reports on the show–rather than who actually won the Oscars in the various categories–and has been a huge topic of discussion in opinion columns and on social media.

My primary reaction to the whole thing is that it’s another in a long line of illustrations of just how weird and awful the whole Hollywood culture really is. In any normal reality, no rational person would even consider marching up on stage during a television broadcast, striking a person across the face because of an offensive joke, and launching an f-bomb for the national viewing audience, but the entertainment industry isn’t a normal reality. Instead, it’s an otherworldly, toxic culture, a witches’ brew of countless sex scandals, substance abuse, philandering, cheating, colossal egos in constant search of recognition, cowardly failures to expose sexual predators, toadying, posing, lack of accountability, and just about every other negative quality you can identify.

In saying this, I’m not blaming the culture for what Will Smith did; he’s got to be responsible for that. Instead, I’m just making the observation that no one should be surprised by anything that happens in Hollywood these days, no matter how inappropriate or shameful. The messed-up culture is fertile, enabling ground for misconduct, and this incident won’t be the last example of it.

Chris Rock apparently handled the incident with incredible professionalism on Sunday night, which is the only thing that kept the matter from escalating still further. The entertainment industry should recognize that it is forever in his debt for that. Not many people would have been able to restrain themselves from responding in kind to a slap, and if Rock didn’t show enormous self-control we would have been treated to the unseemly spectacle of tuxedo-clad celebrities brawling on live TV. As for Will Smith, he’s now issued a public apology to Chris Rock, and the celebrity culture will undoubtedly promptly close ranks and say that the incident is behind us and it’s time to move on.

But for many of us, we’ll still wonder what on earth is wrong with these people–and we’ll be grateful that we aren’t part of their titanic weirdness.

Chris Rock’s “Total Blackout”

Last night Kish and I went to see Chris Rock with Mr. and Mrs. Jersey Cavalier.  Rock is on his new, “Total Blackout” tour, and Columbus is one of the first stops.  In fact, he’s got another show here tonight.

chris-rock_12-06-2016-827x620Rock was flat-out hilarious, but if you’re going to the show, let me offer a word to the wise.  Don’t take your cell phone!  Presumably because Rock doesn’t want any pictures taken during the show, or annoying rings from the audience, or recordings of any part of the show, all cell phones are taken and placed into Yondr pouches that are then locked.  People get to keep their bagged and locked phones with them, but they can’t use them until they walk to the unlocking station at the end of the show.  The Virginia Cavalier graciously walked all of our phones back to our office, which is nearby, so we didn’t have to hassle with the locking and unlocking, which expedited our departure from the theater.

This phone-locking process caused two interesting effects.  First, the area outside the Palace Theater was an absolute scrum before the show.  Security did nothing to put people into orderly lines, so you basically had a mob of impatient people who didn’t know why it was taking so long to get into the show, pushing and jostling and hoping the show didn’t start before they got to their seats.  It was a totally unnecessary melee that could have been avoided by some decent planning and security — which presumably will come later on the tour.  For now, my suggestion is to get to the show early.

Second, after the first two warm-up acts, there was a 20-minute intermission before Rock came on.  Imagine — in the modern world, a 20-minute intermission in which people can’t use their cell phones to check emails and text messages, post a selfie to Facebook, and otherwise pass the time!  When the intermission started, people seemed confused by the absence of their cell phone security blankets and unsure of what to do.  Ultimately, they ended up actually talking to each other, or intently watching the backdrop slide show of covers of vintage comedy albums.  The lack of cell phones sure made that 20-minute intermission seem a hell of a lot longer, but by the time it was over everybody was definitely primed for the show.

Comedy Central Night Of Too Many Stars - ShowAs for Rock, he was brilliant.  The topics he addressed were wide-ranging, encompassing racism, the police, guns, his own celebrity status, the Trump era, religion, his daughter’s freshman orientation, the need for bullies, his divorce, men and women, and of course sex — with a lot of other subjects touched in between.  He’s got a knack for looking at the world in a different way and then capturing his observations in hysterical one-liners.  He’s got to be one of the best stand-up comedians to ever grace the stage, period.

A few other points about Rock.  First, he’s the consummate professional.  Those of us, like Kish and me, who sat in the cheap seats in the back of the theatre appreciated his carefully modulated volume and clear delivery, designed to reach every corner of the venue.  He paces back and forth, so everybody can get a good look, and gave the people in the front row high-fives both before and after the show.  How many big stars will do that?

Second, although Rock uses more profanity than any other comedian I’ve seen live — in the barrage of MFs and f-words, you quickly start to not even notice the “shits” — in his performance the obscenities somehow seem less profane.  They’re just part of the act, helping to set up the one-liners, providing segues from one topic to another, and preserving Rock’s urban street cred.  And, in a way, the profanity masks the fact that some of what Rock has to say isn’t in line with the current PC worldview.  He’s the detached observer, skewering both the silly justifications of the pro-gun lobby and the bland reassurance offered by school administered with equal flair.  His willingness to tilt against all sides is one of the things that makes his shows so interesting.

I’ve been to a number of stand-up shows, and the show last night was the funniest I’ve ever seen.  It’s a must-see if you live near one of the towns on the tour.