An Instagram video of a singalong by Tiffany Haddish, one of the few allowed to use a cellphone inside the venue.
It’s past 4am and I just came home from a party at a bar with Dave Chappelle and John Mayer.
Well, technically it was a show: Friday’s Midnight Surprise at Newspeak on Ste-Elisabeth St. But while the Midnight Surprise is normally a one-hour series of short standup sets, this was a two-hour-plus mix of rock concert, comedy and silliness that made it the biggest show of the festival before it even began.
And while Chappelle and Mayer’s show at the Bell Centre will charge from $75 to $229 plus tax for seats that get progressively far from the stage, tickets for this show were sold at under $30 apiece for general admission to this small venue.
Following the rules of the Midnight Surprise, people didn’t (officially) know who was performing until they were in the venue and the guest walked up on stage.
But Chappelle has done this before. In 2015, the last time he performed here (a show that ended up being extended to 10 shows because of all the demand), he warmed up at the Midnight Surprise the night before the first.
It’s because of moments like that that I make the Midnight Surprise a priority when selecting tickets on my OFF-JFL pass. But it’s mostly dumb luck that the show I picked happened to be the one he would perform at.
(It’s not just the Midnight Surprise, though. At the same time, Kevin Hart showed up to the New Negroes show at Mainline Theatre and did a 15-minute set.)
The first hint that Chappelle would be performing came earlier in the day when Just For Laughs sent out an email saying that not only could people not use their cellphones during the performance, they would be using Yondr pouches to prevent people from using them at all. The only other show going to that length to prevent people from filming was the Chappelle/Mayer show. And the timing — the night before the big show — made the most sense.
There was a delay getting into the venue. The long line didn’t start moving until around 12:30am (times are approximate here because, well, my cellphone was locked up and I couldn’t check the time anymore). People without tickets, but whose artist or industry IDs normally get them into shows anyway, were told they wouldn’t be let in because there wasn’t enough room (it seats about 150 people, with some standing room in the back). I did spot some artists inside, though, including Garfunkel and Oates’s Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci, HQ host Scott Rogowsky and actress Mary-Lynn Rajskub.
Once we were all in, there was another delay as we waited for the show to start. And it’s a bit unusual to be in such a crowd of bored young people without anyone checking their cellphone.
When the show started at I guess around 1am, it was standard enough. Neal Brennan (co-creator of the Chappelle Show) opened up with a set about Donald Trump and the usual standup shtick. It was similar in subject to what we’ve heard from other comedians, but still funny.
Then John Mayer came up and played some songs — newer songs only, including New Light, but no Your Body is a Wonderland here. Mayer surprised me, being both excellent with a guitar (he played both electric and acoustic, aided by a sound machine that provided recordings of beats and other instruments as needed) and very comfortable talking to the crowd. He said he only had “one joke” — about how the Frankenstein Fleshlight has a better five-star rating on Fleshlight’s website than his last album does on iTunes. But turns out he’s actually a pretty funny guy.
Then came the main attraction: Dave Chappelle, security posse in tow, walked up to the stage in a black tank top, hauling a pack of smokes and a cup of booze. He actually lit up and smoked repeatedly through the show, but it’s Dave Chappelle, so who’s going to stop him?
Chappelle started off with some good classic standup material, about Donald Trump, about his astonishment that porn star Stormy Daniels would potentially forfeit money in order to tell people she had sex with Donald Trump, and about the #MeToo movement — material that has gotten him into a bit of trouble. That was a bit over the edge for me, veering to the right of the political spectrum and seeming to blame women for going too far. (One line was definitely not kind to Olivia Munn.) But working in a safe space without anyone recording, he could go far and not worry about people taking his words too seriously days later.
He also went on at length about a Chuck Berry sex tape, and drew laughs just by describing what was going on in the thing.
After a while Mayer returned and the two continued together (this one-then-the-other-then-both format is the same as the big arena show), playing music and talking about silly things they’ve done together and whatever else came in Chappelle’s head.
Later, Chappelle invited Tiffany Haddish, who’s hosting her own gala late Saturday night, to join the duo on stage to sing some songs.
“I feel like I’m in third grade trying to be part of a rock band,” she said as they continued, both she and Chappelle getting giddy (perhaps because of the copious amounts of alcohol consumed up to this point).
As Chappelle and Mayer continued talking about stuff they’ve done, like Chappelle’s idea for espresso with ground-up magic mushrooms, Haddish weighed in.
“That’s white people shit,” she said. Chappelle immediately corrected her: “No, that’s rich-people shit.”
The night ended with what seemed like more of a karaoke session than a comedy show or rock concert, but the crowd ate it up. They did some freestyle rap (or maybe just songs I don’t recognize), and hits like Tina Turner’s Proud Mary and Radiohead’s Creep. It was during this segment that staff were hesitantly approaching the stage, explaining that the venue had a strict 3am deadline and the show needed to end before that.
Chappelle ignored their literal advances and continued going for a while. They ended with a rendition of Killing Me Softly as a singalong with the crowd. I’d say there was a standing ovation, but the crowd was already on its feet by this point.
By the time I got my phone out of its Yondr prison outside, it was 3:15am, and I was among dozens of people on the street wondering what they just witnessed.
Dave Chappelle and John Mayer perform at the Bell Centre on Saturday evening. Tickets at evenko.ca.