On Friday, September 22nd, my wife and I, along with my best bud and his daughter, saw Dave Chapelle live at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. and we couldn’t have had a better time. I guess you might say we could have better seats, but not a better time.
First of all, D.C. is a capital pain of a city to drive around in. Even those of us that have done it on occasion usually have no idea where we might be at any given moment in time or place. But thanks to modern technology, we zipped in and parked in almost the exact amount of time Google Maps predicted.
Maps came through again. I’d marked a number of restaurants within walking distance and we had about an hour and a half before the show. We asked a passerby for recommendations, and after mentioning that he worked at the Warner, he gave us several nearby suggestions. We ended up at The Oceanaire Seafood Room at 1201 F Street NW and it wasn’t anything short of top-notch.
Service was impeccable. Our waiter Tom was the training film definition of smooth and efficient service. He was friendly and knowledgeable and carried himself with endearing professional swagger. Our food came out so quick it was somewhat amazing, and everything was delicious. We tried the crabcakes (and being from Maryland’s Eastern Shore on the Chesapeake Bay we know crabcakes), clam chowder, the tomato & mozarella and iceberg salads, and the family-style sides of truffle whipped potatoes, cream corn and grilled asparagus, and there wasn’t a disappointing dish on the table.
In an hour and half we were wined and dined and impressed in a 4-star fashion. The Oceanaire let’s you know up front it’s high-end dining, which means it’s pricey, but as a treat on a special night out, our experience could not have been more perfect.
The Warner Theatre, originally the Earle, opened in 1924, at the height of America’s grand theater era, and began its career in vaudeville and silent movies. There was “a rooftop garden that attracted thousands of visitors every night, and the basement restaurant/ballroom became famous in the 1930s as the Neptune Room, where such A-list acts as Jerry Lewis and Red Skelton performed. The theatre switched to a movies-only policy in 1945. In 1947, Harry Warner, one of the Hollywood’s Warner Brothers, visited. Warner said that since he now owned the place, his name should be on the marquee. “Thus the Earle Theatre became the Warner Theatre.”
The entertainment industry is a fickle and fragile thing, and like all showbiz survivors, the Warner rode the cultural waves with all the grace that it could muster. Highs included a surprise small venue Rolling Stones concert in 1978, and rock bottom was probably the theatre’s short run as a porn palace.
After a three-year remodel, the Warner reopened in 1992 with a gala featuring Frank Sinatra in his final D.C. appearance. Today the Warner is an entertainment destination that showcases musical acts for every taste, and performers that include the very best stand-up comedians. Stand-ups like Dave Chappelle.
Dave Chappelle is from the Washington D.C. area, Silver Spring, to be specific, and at the Warner Theatre show he seemed to enjoy being back in his hometown. He mentioned several local landmarks throughout his show, including the eye-popping Mormon Temple located near Kensington, and every one not only established his bona fides, but they all got laughs.
Chappelle is 44-years old and has being doing professional stand-up since he was an underage high school kid. His comedy has evolved into more of a storytelling style, and he’s one of the best to have ever commanded a stage. He talks about his status as a stand-up in the show we saw, hinting that he may not be doing it again, at least any time soon, and when he mentions that he’ll be filming his “last” Netflix special during this run of shows at the Warner, the audience isn’t sure if they’re bummed or excited.
With a long reputation for controversy and shaking things up (i.e. the big bucks and hit TV show he walked away from in 2006), Chappelle would have been remiss not to address the elephant sitting in the middle of the swampy room that is Washington, D.C. right now. The elephant all of us are talking about all the time. The elephant that Chappelle famously said he was willing to give a chance on SNL on the first show after the 2016 presidential election.
Chappelle was, as expected, blunt, honest, and most importantly funny, in his observations of the political times we find ourselves in. Yes, he was political, but human. Combative, yet graceful. Angry, yet compassionate.
He had a message, but he did not belabor it.
He spoke the truth as he sees it, and he was as funny as a man can be while doing it.
And that’s my kind of comedy.