Dave Chappelle: Equanimity is now streaming on Netflix.
In one of his first bits in Equanimity, Dave Chappelle muses about how, quite frankly, he’s amazing at comedy. It’s true – Chappelle’s jokes are expertly crafted. “I can even come up with the punchline first!” he says. The routine works because Dave is brutally honest; he’s not apologizing for knowing the audience will pretty much laugh no matter what. Unfortunately, this special feels kind of phoned in, perhaps for that exact reason.
Equanimity was one of two stand-up specials released by Chappelle exclusively for Netflix on New Year’s Eve (and totaling his output in 2017 to four). If this hour was his comeback after years of silence, I think it would play better. Sadly, Equanimity can’t follow up Age of Spin from last March, which was fantastic. Here, too much time is spent on rambling. You get the feeling this isn’t the performer’s fault. I attribute the looseness to Chappelle’s feeling that he must clap back at his critics. He started his career before rampant political correctness, and you see his genuine bewilderment that people just can’t take a joke.
A substantial chunk of the performance is dedicated to the fallout of Dave’s transgender joke early this year, as well as the backlash from his Saturday Night Live monologue where he suggested we give Trump a chance. These parts aren’t particularly funny, which is a shame. Chappelle is clearly at his best when he’s handling material that isn’t necessarily topical. My favorite moments in Equanimity are where he discusses growing up poor around white people and his kids getting older. The one timely bit that the comedian successfully pulls off is his closing remarks that relate the famous story of Emmett Till to Donald Trump’s presidency. It shows that Chappelle genuinely wants to understand those he doesn’t agree with.
Having already established his legend status, Dave Chappelle can be as uninventive as he wants. Equanimity was filmed in D.C.’s Warner Theater with a packed audience. That big concert feel is what saves the special. You hear the laughs emanating from the crowd and can’t help but crack up with them. (The difference between the vibe here and the intimate feeling of the next hour, The Bird Revelation, is noteworthy.)
Is this special entertaining? To some, yes. It’s definitely insightful. But if you’re looking to get away from the world’s problems and laugh for an hour, I suggest you find something else to watch.
I give Dave Chappelle: Equanimity a B.