There was much talk of Chappelle in Chicago and none of it was good. I drank a bottle of whiskey at the Green Door and went down to Tinley Park to cover his show.
Tinley Park is not Oak Park, but it is close enough. Whenever I’m near Oak Park I think about Mother. I think about the girl-clothes she made me wear and the cello lessons. These are things I do not like to remember. The little dresses and the many hours of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
I found Juan in the bar at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater and asked him if what they were saying about Chappelle’s Hartford performance was true.
“I will tell you,” said Juan. “But first we drink.”
I told the bartender to bring us Chinchón and the bartender said, “We have a special on Lemon Gingertinis today. Two for one.”
Juan grabbed the bartender’s arm and twisted it until he cried out for his uncle.
“Bring us Chinchón,” said Juan.
The bartender poured two glasses of Chinchón and left the bottle. I mixed a small amount of water into my Chinchón and watched it turn milky in the glass. The Chinchón was good, as it had been in Madrid when Juan and I fought the Guardia Civil officers for the last piece of flan.
“Doesn’t your madre reside in these parts?” said Juan.
“Do not speak of my mother,” I said. “If you speak of my mother we will have to fight and I do not wish to fight before I see Chappelle.”
We drank long and well and when we could drink no more I asked Juan again about Hartford.
“Everything is as they say,” said Juan.
“It was bad then.”
“It was an obscenity.”
“Will he quit?” I said.
“He should,” said Juan. “But he does not.”
There are two dangers when a great comedian returns from exile or retirement. The first danger is that he will no longer possess the grace and purity of his youth. Without the grace and purity of his youth the comedian will resort to unworthy tricks and become a mere teller of jokes. The people will remember his greatness but they will only see the shadow of this greatness and soon they will forget about the greatness altogether. The second danger is that the comedian will think only of his past glories and take unmanageable risks in order to recapture them. This second danger is the most dangerous because the comedian can never truly regain the agility of his youth and if he attempts to perform as he did in his younger days, his comeback will end in tragedy.
Juan got another bottle of Chinchón from the bartender and we took it into the amphitheater. Hannibal Buress was on stage. The people do not yet know of Buress, but amongst aficionados he is spoken of with great respect. He lacks the natural artistry of Chappelle, but he killed swiftly and precisely, and with hard work and sweat he will soon challenge the top comedians. Because Buress is a native Chicagoan, it is very likely his mother was in attendance, which makes his performance all the more impressive. Mothers can be very critical. I certainly do not like it when Mother reads my work. When The Sun Also Rises came out, she scanned the first chapter and said, “It’s okay for the beach, but you’re no Sherwood Anderson.” Buress should be highly commended for his grace under maternal pressure.
Flight of the Conchords, from New Zealand, went on next. They fought bravely and well, but the crowd was against them from the start. Everyone had come to see Chappelle and they had no patience for stylized foreign comedy. Halfway into the set, the Conchords became distracted and suffered a very a brutal cogida.
Now the only thing to do was to wait for Chappelle. Juan told a rough joke about the putas we had known in Madrid and handed me the bottle of Chinchón.
“Drink,” he said. “For today we witness history.”
I drank, but not enough to ruin the beautiful tension. There would soon be a great victory or a great tragedy and we did not know which it would be.
“This reminds me of the Robin Williams comeback,” said an old peasant in the next row.
Juan broke the Chinchón bottle over the peasant’s shoulder and kicked him to the ground.
“Idiota!” said Juan. “This is nothing like the Robin Williams. Did the Robin Williams leave 50 million dollars en la mesa, suffer the nervous breakdown, and disappear for ocho anos?”
“No, but he did become an alcoholic,” said the peasant.
“I obscenity in the milk of your mother,” said Juan. “Now get out of here before I cut off your cojones and feed them to your daughters.”
When Chappelle entered the amphitheater the people shouted their approval. After all that had happened in Hartford he had come and he was willing to fight. He looked bigger than I remembered him but it was not the bigness that comes from wealth or fame or overeating. It was the bigness of a fighter who has put on muscle to make up for age and diminished speed. He looked directly into the crowd, raised the microphone to his mouth, and said, “Man, muck Hartford. If North Korea ever drops a nuclear mucking bomb I hope it lands on mothermucking Hartford.”
“Olé!” said Juan. “He has still got it!”
With one true sentence Chappelle dominated Hartford and destroyed it and everyone agreed that Hartford died a very good death.
Chappelle’s new material stared down the hard truths of life and did not flinch. He has overcome great adversity. Chappelle’s mother was a professor and a Unitarian minister and probably very overbearing and this must have caused serious psychological damage in the young comedian. But none of that mattered in Chicago. Chappelle killed that night as he has always killed, with the skill and easy courage of a champion.
And he even did Lil’ Wayne.