A year after he walked off the stage after being heckled and booed — and later quipped he hoped a nuclear bomb would land in Hartford — comedian Dave Chappelle returned to the Xfinity Theatre as a surprise addition to Saturday night’s Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival.
“I did not think I would ever come back to Hartford again,” Chappelle said to a roaring crowd. “It was a year ago tonight, I had 364 nights to think about that fatal night, one year ago. … I was really immature about what happened.”
But it wasn’t long before Chappelle got to the comedy, taking some good-natured digs at the capital city.
“Right after I left, I’m sorry I did this, I made T-shirts that said [expletive] Hartford on it. I did do that. I’m sorry I did that. And I hate to tell you that they were very good sellers. I got a lot of Internet orders, from Hartford, that was a surprise.”
The comedian’s 16-minute set was markedly different from his performance last year. The crowd turned against Chappelle at the Aug. 29, 2013 show, but attendees said it was because he stopped telling jokes and started reading a book, smoking and rambling on a variety of subjects, as well as insulting the fans. After about 25 minutes, he left the stage.
Following the 2013 Hartford show, Chappelle ripped the Connecticut crowd during a subsequent performance in Chicago, calling them evil and a bunch of “young, white alcoholics.”
“I don't want anything bad to happen to the United States,” Chappelle said, according to media reports from the show, “but if North Korea ever drops a nuclear bomb on this country, I swear to God I hope it lands in Hartford, Connecticut.”
City officials took offense to his comments, calling them immature and inappropriate.
But the Hartford crowd remained on Chappelle’s side throughout his time on stage Saturday night. Even he noted the difference in how the fans reacted to him.
“Are you sure this is Hartford?” I swear to God I thought you were going to boo me the minute I came out,” Chappelle said. “Boy I wish you guys were here last year.”
Jordan Bartucca, of Bristol, who attended both last year’s and this year’s shows, said the crowd was taken by surprise when Chappelle came out after comedian Louis C.K. finished his set.
“He said ‘Hey everybody, don’t go anywhere, Dave Chappelle is coming out.’ I thought he was joking around.”
Photographer Jeremy Saffer of Holyoke, Mass. said some fans were heading for the exits after Louis C.K. and they too thought the Chappelle announcement was a joke at the expense of last year’s show.
“People walking out to go home stopped dead in their tracks, some laughing in disbelief saying “yeah right,” “there’s no way,” “this can’t be real” as I was making a mad dash past them to photograph it,” he said in an email.
Bartucca said “the whole place went nuts” when Chappelle walked on stage and gave him credit for coming back, apologizing and making fun of the situation.
“It was a year later, all that tension was gone,” he said. “And the crowd loved it.”
“Given his outrageous antics on stage and what he said about Hartford in following appearances, I think it was a smart move to come back, it seemed to be genuine, and we all had a good laugh,” Jessica Ruggles, of Middletown, said in an email.
Much of Chappelle’s set addressed the controversial show and the aftermath, but he also told jokes about sexuality, drugs and celebrities.
Before he left, Chappelle took one last friendly parting shot at the crowd.
“Since that fateful night last year I’ve done 150 shows,” he said. “All of them went well. And I say that to say this, in case the media’s watching, it was your fault.”