Mad Respect to Dave Chappelle
Last week we attended a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Ms. Lauryn Hill was celebrating the 20-year anniversary of her seminal album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” and she had De La Soul opening, followed by her special guest Dave Chappelle.
Before the event, we received several emails from the concert promoter reminding audience members that cell phones, cameras and smart watches would not be allowed during Chappelle’s set. You could either leave them at home or bring them to the venue and place them in a sealed pouch called a Yondr. At the end of the comedian’s set, and before Ms. Hill and her band performed, patrons were permitted to have their pouches unlocked by one of many uniformed helpers. Until then, all devices had to remain stashed. Violators were subject to immediate ejection.
In interviews, Chappelle has said that the (omni)presence of phones and cameras at his shows compromises his artistic freedom. He feels as though the lenses pointing at him operate as unintended editors, subtly encouraging him to censor himself. Without them, he’s free to be in the moment.
With or without recording devices, Chappelle, we’ve found, is consistently brilliant. He’s funny and he’s a truth-teller. Our society could use thousands of folks like him, but we’re lucky to at least have the one and only. At the Bowl, speaking about school shootings and race, he was hilarious and profound — and we suspect the results would have been identical had cameras been allowed.
What struck us as unusual, and sensationally wonderful, was the phenomenon of 17,000+ people simultaneously being present in the same space, the same moment, together. Without a phone to post a status update, take selfies, record the festivities or call a friend, every person in the audience was confronted by a performance without easy distractions. All our attention and senses were focused on the single man on stage, talking. (Similarly, in the interval between De La Soul and Chappelle, couples and friends had the rare opportunity to engage with each other, not their screens). An atmosphere of concentration doesn’t necessarily make a performer better, or funnier. But it certainly makes the experience better.
Curiously, Ms. Lauryn Hill allowed everyone to have their phones out for her set, and the energy was altogether different. Set aside the fact that she no longer has an upper range and back-phrases her lyrics so lazily as to lose the melody; everyone in attendance now had an excuse (and an outlet) to look elsewhere. Like, at the thing in their hands. Somehow, the air had been let out of the open-air venue.
Mad respect to Mr. Chappelle, and not only for being fearless and smart. Kudos to him for reminding us that artists are truly the most powerful people in the world. They can bring us together.