Review: Dave Chappelle “Untitled” at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto (2021.11.15)

Fans of Dave Chappelle are likely already aware of the controversy surrounding his latest Netflix special, The Closer, but that didn’t stop his Toronto fan base from filling up a sold-out Scotiabank Arena to see him perform live on a Monday night. The iconic comedian has taken some heat in recent years over his jokes and comments about the LGBTQ+ community in his stand-up specials, but he remains unfazed as he continues to go on tour and connect with his fans. This would be his first major tour since COVID-19, and for many fans would be their first arena-sized comedy show since restrictions have eased up. It’s about time we got to have a good laugh.

It would be slow for fans entering the arena, as not only was scanning of COVID vaccine passports added on to the usual security procedures, but we would also have to lock up our phones in YONDR pouches to prevent any photos, videos or social media postings being taken. (This is a good time for a disclaimer: this review is written purely off of memory and some details may be remembered incorrectly.) The distribution of the pouches and then having them unlocked after the show would cause major delays for both the entrance and exit, but Dave put together an incredible show that more than made up for it. Once we got inside, we put on our custom Chappelle Show masks that every fan received at the entrance, and checked out the merch booth where they were selling $75 hoodies and $45 t-shirts. There were some fly shirts with Dave Chappelle’s name written across the front, but another shirt had a message that effectively summed up the evening we were about to get into: Music & Laughter: A Vaccine For The Soul. The shirt was actually tour merch for DJ Trauma, who would warm up the crowd by spinning some ’80s hits as the arena’s seats got filled.

Along with a screening of Dave Chappelle’s new documentary, Untitled, the show was advertised to include a live performance by “Dave Chappelle & Friends”; we had no idea who would be opening up for him. The first opener and host of the evening turned out to be Roastmaster General Jeff Ross, who would tell a few jokes roasting his own appearance before introducing Sam Jay to the stage. Being a black lesbian comedian, Sam Jay had plenty of jokes to tell that provided commentary on race, gender, and sexuality. She was also able to connect with the Canadian crowd, ending her set with a blunt punchline comparing America’s race issues with the black community to those that Canada has with its Indigenous community, saying Canadians use the term “native” instead of the N word.

Jeff Ross would return to the stage after Sam Jay’s set, and this time instead of roasting himself, he would select about a dozen fans from the audience to bring on stage to roast. This set had some hilarious moments, including an appearance by Russell Oliver, famous in Toronto for his local “Cash Man” commercials for his jewelry stores. It’s unclear if Jeff really knew how much of a public figure Oliver is to the Toronto crowd, but he still let him get in an “ohh yaaaa!!” to big applause. Another cool moment was Toronto actor/stuntwoman Angelica Lisk-Hann making an appearance to thank Dave Chappelle for helping start off her career by casting her in his 1998 film Half Baked (which was filmed in Toronto).

After Jeff Ross’ set, it was time to screen Dave’s documentary film, Untitled. Rather than a laugh-filled comedy you’d expect from Dave Chappelle, this documentary had a much more serious tone, beginning with coverage of some of the protests surrounding the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020. The documentary takes you through Dave’s perspective as America reacts to the murders, and at the same time is forced to adjust to a new lifestyle with COVID-19 arriving. It’s the old struggles the black community has faced in America combined with the new struggles brought on by COVID-19 that inspires Dave to host small comedy shows at an outdoor ranch in his hometown Yellow Springs, Ohio. Driven to bring his community together and provide support during these troubling times, Dave flies many of his famous friends in to his hometown to help put on over 50 shows during the pandemic, all while overcoming several obstacles.

With the art on stage focused on healing the black community, and the act itself of putting on these shows for Yellow Springs being a way to support his small town both emotionally and economically during the pandemic, you can see where Dave’s focus lies with this documentary. By the end of the film, we learn that Dave’s comedy shows raised over $9 million for his small town’s economy, he was logistically able to pull these shows off without any audience members contracting COVID (although some performers did test positive and survived), and he also put a spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement, who protested for 23 weeks straight.

As the end credits rolled, you could see Dave’s gear being set up on stage, and soon it was time for the man himself to come out. The crowd gave a standing ovation as the spot light hit the stage to reveal Dave and he started to get into about a one-hour set. Although he had a few cracks here and there making light of his recent situation with the Trans community, most of Dave’s set was focused on other topics, as he mentioned early on he’d be replacing his Trans jokes with Asian jokes (mostly through stories about his wife). Without repeating or spoiling any jokes, Dave’s set had commentary on racism, sexism, capitalism, marriage, law enforcement, and was able to masterfully open up our minds to these difficult topics while still keeping it lighthearted and funny. With his comedic timing always on point, Dave’s set was hilarious as usual and drew plenty of laughs from the crowd. There did come a moment where football somehow came up, and Dave asked the crowd what Toronto’s team would be named if we were to have one, as if the Argonauts didn’t exist.

While Dave may have miss-stepped with that football line, he did Toronto right with his special surprise guests, bringing out Kardinal Offishall to perform a few songs with Solitair as his hypeman. The Toronto Hip-Hop legend started performing some classics, kicking off his set with “Ol’ Time Killin” and rocking his verse from The Clipse’ “Grindin’ Remix.” Maybe the crowd was too relaxed from sitting down to take in the documentary and stand-up comedy, but barely anyone got turnt up as Kardinal performed his first few songs. Like the master performer that he is though, Kardi recognized and was able address the crowd to get them out of their seats before performing the hype “Clear!”

After performing his verse from Akon’s “Beautiful,” Kardinal got the crowd to sing along to the original version of “The Tide Is High” before turning up for his own interpolation of the song with Rihanna, “Numba 1 (Tide Is High).” He then closed out his set with the obvious hit, the Akon-assisted “Dangerous,” shouting out all the beautiful, diverse women of Toronto and getting everyone to sing along to Akon’s part of the song. (No, Rihanna and Akon were not in the building to perform with Kardi). Dave Chappelle could be seen vibing out behind Kardinal as he performed, and he got back on the mic to tell the crowd how Kardi was the first rapper to open his eyes up to Toronto’s music scene. Dave, Kardinal and Solitair vibed out on stage as the DJ spun some more songs, getting into a Reggae and Dancehall medley, before Dave told a few more jokes and closed out the show.

Despite all the controversy currently surrounding Dave Chappelle in the media, this was an all-around good time with minimal hiccups. The Toronto fans got to celebrate one of the greats, as the Untitled documentary highlighted Dave’s sense of activism and community building, the stand-up sets were hilarious, and Dave’s appreciation for Hip-Hop music shined as he brought out a Toronto icon in Kardinal Offishall. Much like the Untitled scene where some neighbours in Yellow Springs tried to shut down Dave’s comedy shows, only to be far outweighed by positive affirmations from the community about the good he’s doing, Dave Chappelle may be going through some heat in the media right now, but the support from fans and positive energy being spread at these shows seems to be far outweighing the calls to cancel him.

The song they played as Dave said goodbye to the crowd:

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