Last night I was fortunate to attend a new series hosted by Dave Chappelle in Yellow Springs, Ohio. A Talk with Punchlines is somewhat of a social distancing experiment that may very well become the future of live entertainment events. The first of its kind.
With COVID-19 protocols, such as infrared temperature screening prior to entrance, provided face masks which were required throughout the show, pairs of chairs sprawled across the lawn 6-feet apart, and sanitation stations, there was comfort within the new uncomfortableness of a live event.
There weren't any corporate sponsors. Staff/security weren't wearing "intimidating" bright yellow STAFF shirts, they were warm and welcoming while blending in with the guests. Alcohol wasn't on the premise, but Dave brought in a single local food truck, Miguels which served some of the best authentic tacos I've ever had.
With our cell phones locked in a pouch, I enjoyed watching just how uncomfortable guests would become shortly after appearing through the wooded trail that led to the pavilion. There were no selfies. No posing or influencing. For the first time in a LONG time, we were a crowd of 100 people who were encouraged to engage with one another rather than succumbing to double chins and thumb scrolls.
Sitting in the front row, six feet from the stage, I laughed because as much as I criticize social media norms, I immediately reached in my pocket to snap a photo. I couldn't determine if it was because I wanted to document this experience, stunt on my followers, or simply to prove we sat right in front of the stage. How sad is that?
DJ Trauma set the pace with a soundtrack featuring thought provoking songs from the past few decades. Each song intentional for the evening coinsiding with current events. Heads bobbed to the beat while we waited for the show to start. Little by little you could witness the entire crowd settle in and become more comfortable. For 3 hours, we were ALL present in the moment. I had forgotten what that felt like. Our senses were dialed into the sights and sounds of a beautiful summer night as the sun set behind the trees in the middle of nowhere. No texts. No emails. No social media.
It was a carefully curated event. Not only the representation in the audience, but the comedians on-stage each brought a different perspective from different backgrounds and experiences to discuss current events. Their context was drawn from personal experience. The stage gave them an opportunity to have an honest conversation about race, accompanied with humor, neglected of immediate ridicule or fear of cancel culture.
Each comedian expressed their gratitude to Dave. For the most part, it had been their first time on stage before an audience since February or March. It was also a new experience for them. Looking out at a field of pairs with only half their faces exposed. Telling jokes without receiving the satisfaction of facial expressions has to be awkward.
At the end of the show, Dave and Donnell called out Talib Kweli for a surprise impromptu performance of Get By. Even with excitement, the crowd didn't really know how to react. Could we get closer to the stage to allow Talib to feed off our energy, or did we have to continue practice social distancing? There's going to be a lot of figuring out when it comes to concerts.
But that was the beauty. At some point we were ALL uncomfortable, together. As a white man in America, I don't often experience a sense of discomfort. That's a privilege I recognize. A privilege everyone deserves, one that has been fought for for centuries, one that we are fighting for now more than ever.
It's ok to be uncomfortable. There's opportunity for growth that has the potential to lead to real progress. Events like A Talk with Punchlines offer positivity and inclusiveness in a world that is constantly trying to divide us. Having honest conversations and sharing experiences with individuals from different backgrounds affords us the opportunity to learn from each other while realizing we're more similar than different.
Dave Chappelle is revolutionizing the live event space during a complicated moment in history. COVID-19 or not, the setting was something that should be duplicated throughout the world. Entertainers have been forced to rely heavily on touring and living life on the road. Not the healthiest lifestyle.
For the rest of the summer Dave is asking fans to come to him as he invites the world to experience his home town. A small slice of America that is often looked over.
You can find tickets to upcoming shows on Eventbrite. Follow "Team Chappelle" to be notified of future dates.
This is an experience that you will never forget, even if you don't have the photos to prove it.
Much love and respect to Mr. Chappelle for bringing us together when the world is telling us to isolate.