After Dave Chappelle Hates On Hartford, Who's To Blame?

Comedian Dave Chappelle caused some controversy at a comedy festival in Hartford, Conn. last week, after he got upset at hecklers and walked off stage. Depending on who you ask, Hartford was a horrible, racist audience — or just had a bad night.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The news media are buzzing about comedian Dave Chappelle's performance - or lack of performance - in Hartford, Conn., last week. In response to a boisterous, heckling crowd, Chappelle stopped his routine and ultimately, walked offstage.

Depending on whom you ask, the audience was rude and racist, or Chappelle just had a bad night. Catie Talarski ,of member station WNPR, reports.

CATIE TALARSKI, BYLINE: As if the city of Hartford needs to add to its inferiority complex, now Dave Chappelle hates us.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY PERFORMANCE)

DAVE CHAPPELLE: I don't want anything bad to happen to the United States, but if North Korea ever drops a nuclear bomb on this country, I swear to God, I hope it lands in Hartford.

(LAUGHTER)

TALARSKI: Chappelle killed them in Chicago with his joke about nuking Hartford. The successful show was five days after his disastrous performance, in which he called the Hartford audience evil, an arena full of suburban torturers and young, white alcoholics. That audience, thousands who paid up to $90 to see the show, had been sitting and drinking for hours before Chappelle took the stage.

JULIA PISTELL: The crowd was a concert crowd. They were expecting to make noise. They were expecting to drink a lot.

TALARSKI: Julia Pistell was there. She's in a local improv group, so she knows what it looks like when comedy goes bad. She said it was a tough crowd for all the comics. One group even tried a sing-along, which failed. So when Dave Chappelle got onstage, maybe he was primed.

PISTELL: The hecklers absolutely affected him instantaneously, in a way that he decided not to perform anymore. And I think that's a really tough night for a comedian. And he was the one with the microphone, and he could have made a lot of other choices that also made his point in the same way.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY PERFORMANCE)

CHAPPELLE: Tonight my contract says 25 minutes, and I have three minutes left. And when that three minutes is up, my (beep) is gone.

TALARSKI: And that's what Chappelle did - killed time by smoking a cigarette, and reading an excerpt from an audience member's book. When time was up, he walked offstage to the continued heckling of the mostly white crowd.

DAVID CANTON: These are a generation of white males who grew up on "The Dave Chappelle Show."

TALARSKI: That's David Canton, who teaches history and black culture at Connecticut College. He says white audiences and black audiences may have different interpretations of Chappelle's work. His comedy about race is sophisticated, Canton says, and sometimes the meaning gets lost.

CANTON: They were probably looking for Dave Chappelle to talk about Ashy Larry, Rick James - all the skits that they grew up watching on the Comedy Central show. I think he wants to reinvent himself as a comedian, and move away from "The Dave Chappelle Show."

TALARSKI: And Hartford's mayor would love to move away from the bad publicity. Pedro Segarra took to the Internet to defend his capital city, tweeting: Dave Chappelle should quit whining, do his job, and try some yoga.

For NPR News, I'm Catie Talarski in Hartford.

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