Dave Chappelle shows spark local joy and trepidation

Dave Chappelle, the hugely popular and continually controversial comedian, is he a comedic genius or a cultural loose cannon?

While a lot of Sonoma counties are talking about exactly that right now, the answer may depend on who you ask.

Tickets sold out for both Chapel shows this week at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa when they went on sale without prior announcement. Two more shows were added and within hours they were quickly sold out.

The center reported a total of 6,364 tickets sold in eight hours.

Meanwhile, Chappelle’s show at the First Avenue club in Minneapolis was canceled last week in response to online petitions protesting the comedian’s past jokes about the transgender community.

That show was moved to the city’s Varsity Theater, where protesters gathered outside. Despite the response, a second show was soon added.

Encouraged by protesters in Minneapolis, Santa Rosa native Joy Anderson, a 24-year-old non-binary member of the transgender community, launched an online protest Thursday night against the Luther Burbank Center reservation.

Anderson had collected 100 signatures on Friday.

“We received a response from the Luther Burbank Center that they were ready to meet with us,” said Anderson, who moved to Oakland last month but still remains active in Sonoma County’s trans community. “It looks like we might have a meeting next week, but we haven’t set anything yet.”

The issue is important because of the potential for discrimination and even violence against transgender people, Anderson said.

“Dave Chappelle uses the queer community, especially the trans community, as a punchline, and it propagates stereotypes,” they added.

“You never know what will happen”

The Luther Burbank Center leases the facilities to Live Nation, which produces Chappelle’s shows, said Anita Wiglesworth, the center’s vice president of programming and marketing.

“It’s not us who would make that decision” to cancel or move the shows, she explained. “We hear community feedback, and we always want to be responsive and hear from people.”

On Friday, Luther Burbank Center officials released a statement calling the venue “a place where diverse voices can be heard.”

“The LBC has been a gathering place for over 40 years, working with the community and a number of broadcasters to provide a place where diverse voices can be heard. This show is offered by Live Nation, who have rented our facilities for many years. During that time, they brought a wide variety of artists and voices to the stage,” officials said.

“We always welcome feedback from our community and have shared the collective concerns we have received with Live Nation. Additionally, we have invited those who have expressed their thoughts to meet and continue the conversation so that we are able to find ways to better support and elevate the voice of our entire community.

For many, Chappelle is a comic treasure. In 2006 Esquire magazine called him “America’s comedic genius” and in 2019 he received the Mark Twain Award for American Humor from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Even so, Chappelle’s remarks about transgender people in his 2021 Netflix special, “The Closer,” sparked a walkout among some Netflix employees.

In May, Chappelle was charged onstage at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles by a man who told the New York Post that he found the show’s content “triggerable”.

The trans community is a marginalized segment of the population seeking wider acceptance, said Orlando O’Shea, a 51-year-old Santa Rosa resident who is a founding committee member of Translife, a Sonoma County organization that offers education and support to both the trans community and its allies.

“One thing he did was make jokes about trans people’s genitals,” O’Shea said. “In addition to being offensive, it reinforces stereotypes. It dehumanizes trans people. Trans people get very personal questions. People think it’s OK. Some people confuse trans with a kind of sexual perversion.

Clearly, however, Chappelle has a sequel here.

Luther Burbank Center officials noted last week, after its first shows sold out, the last time the center saw such a rush for tickets was March 2015. That’s when- where Chappelle had four sold-out shows at the center.

Local professional comedian Juan Carlos Arenas, 43, of Santa Rosa, said wide-ranging, freewheeling commentary is part of a stand-up comedian’s job.

“Dave Chappelle is the GOAT – the greatest of all time. He speaks from the heart. His timing is impeccable. His insights are personal,” Arenas said.

James C. Tibbs