October 22, 2011 I walked past a large chalkboard downtown Brooklyn that encouraged people to finish the statement: Before I die I want to…
So I wrote on it. I’m not afraid to admit I worship the ground on which Dave Chappelle walks. Killing ‘Em Softly is my favorite comedy special and I can quote every line from it because I’ve seen it dozens of times. My living inspiration and idol in comedy is this man. The first time we met was in Los Angeles my first year in comedy: 2007. He came into the Laugh Factory as a surprise and performed onstage for 5 and a half hours. I didn’t miss a single moment. Like a 3 year old watching Yo Gabba Gabba I was focused. After this marathon performance I had the opportunity to talk to him and take a picture. (probably because most of the audience had left at this point, it was 4:30am)
From then on I’ve seen him a couple times a year. Seemingly by accident we’d cross paths and each time the friendship has grown. We’ve been out to eat several times on both coasts and had long conversations including everything from comedy and politics to relationships and religion. Every time we’re together I have the moment: You’re really with Dave Chappelle! There are even times when we sit in silence. I really appreciate these the most because there aren’t many people you can do that with let alone a major super star.
At the beginning of June, while I was in Chicago on my comedy grind, I came across an article in The Humor Mill. It reported that Dave was performing in Little Rock and Memphis the following week and both shows had been sold out. All I could think was: I’m there! But how? On a whim, I reached out to him via FB. Three days later he responded that my name would be at the door. Immediately my levels of excitement and disbelief sky rocketed.
Last Tuesday morning I left NYC at 8:30am on a flight to Memphis w/ a stop over in Philly armed with merely a backpack and pouch (yeah I know a pouch is corny to most but they’re practical for travel, so I’ll use mine to the fullest, I don’t care what the naysayers say). Bitch I’m fly:
Anyway, the connection was delayed two hours and I didn’t land in Memphis until almost 5pm. From the airport I hopped on the transit bus that read: Downtown. After an hour of riding through the “First 48” killer streets of Memphis I arrived, had dinner with myself and walked the mile that was left to the theater.
When I got to Will Call this is how the exchange went (around 7:15pm):
Me: Hello, I’m supposed to have a ticket under my name.
She: What’s your name?
Me: Joyelle Johnson.
She: We don’t have a ticket under that name.
mild panic sets in.
Me: This might sound crazy but I’m a friend of Chappelle’s and he told me he was going to leave my name at the door. Is there someone else I can talk to?
She: Well maybe you can try the stage door around the corner?
I walk to the stage door and the same thing happens. I don’t have his number yet so inside my head a plethora of emotions exchange. The highlights include: “You idiot! Did you really think Dave Chappelle was leaving YOU a ticket to his show??” ”Did you really just fly to Memphis like a dummy and waste a day of your life?” “Calm down! There’s no way the Universe would bring you all the way here to not let you get in. It’s only 7:30pm the show hasn’t started yet. Don’t panic!” And my personal favorite: “I want my mommy!!!”
Invoking the patience of a zen buddhist I calmly left the lobby area. As I walked past all the ticket holders streaming in beaming with excitement I decided to traipse over to the Bank of America and make a deposit to keep myself busy. On the way I passed a ticket scalper and noted him as a possibility. Feeling like a creep I got back to the will call area and loitered in the lobby stalker style. Around 8:15pm this exchange happened w/ Will Call:
She: What’s your name again?
She: How do you spell it?
She: Oh well we have a ticket here for a J-O-E-L-E
Me out loud: “Yea thats me, they must’ve spelled my name wrong.” in my head: “You stupid bitch!! Got me over here worried to death wondering what the fuck I was doing in Memphis and you had my ticket the whole TIME??!! Namaste.”
I go in and the show was unreal. He warned me he was “coming off the bench.” But it was Dave. In my humble opinion rusty Chappelle is better than the majority of seasoned pros. He even saw me from the stage and shouted me out in front of the crowd of two thousand, “Everybody this is Joyelle, she’s one of my favorite up and coming comedians, watch out for her in the future.”
Awestruck after the show ends I was one of three people to walk to the back to say hi. (In case it wasn’t clear at this point I only have a backpack, pouch and no real plans for the night, if worse came to worse I’d make my way back to the airport and take a nap until the next flight to NY.) However, best came to best and not only was I able to hang with the small entourage but while we shared a plate of fried green tomatoes he asked me casually, “You wanna open for me in Little Rock?’ Ummmmmmmmmm in a word: yes.
Of course I spent the next 18 hours in a cocktail mix of blissful hysteria. After a chill day of conversation outside the Westin hotel Dave and Frederic Yonnet (one of the coolest men in the world) rode motorcycles to Little Rock while Fred’s wife Carla Sims (one of the coolest women on the planet) and I rode the tour bus. I spent the two hour drive getting my head wrapped around the insanity that was about to prevail. A major part of that was me trying not to overreact!
We arrived at the Capital Hotel at 6:50 pm and I had 15 minutes to get my life together and look pretty for the stage. After a local opener I went on around 7:50pm and had the most exhilarating 18 minute set of my life to date. Performing in front of over two thousand people is a one of a kind experience that I cannot express in words. Unfortunately, I’m not that eloquent. Just imagine your wildest dream coming true and feel it from the inside out.
Dave didn’t see my performance (this time :-). However, he was informed of it as soon as he walked into the building post showering off the “Rebel w/o a Cause” road trip sweat. I’m standing in the wings elated to see him walk up and the first words out of his mouth after a hug are, “Sorry I wasn’t here but I heard you ripped that shit!” And I’m not gonna front. I did. Then he went on and did the Chappelle thing that was even better than the night before. The entire three days and nights are full of road trip stories that are too much to include on this already gregarious blog. (ask me about it and ill tell you in person :-)
The question that I’ve been getting the most thus far: Is Chappelle making a come back? There’s no answer to this question yet. All I can say is let’s hope and pray, not only for my own selfish reasons of wanting to be his opener on the tour, but honestly because I miss his voice. Our generation needs his perspective, especially in this political climate. Not to mention, for me, his non-presence on the TV and silver screen leave much to be desired from the industry.
I’ve been blessed enough to be in his orbit while he’s been off the scene but its never enough. Separation anxiety sparks for me each and every time we part. I constantly have moments of disbelief that I have him as a friend and mentor; it’s the greatest testament of my career to date. After making a firm statement October 22nd less than 8 months later on June 12th I made one of my wildest dreams come true. Additionally, one of the best pictures of my life was taken last week. Until next time folks: Rough Ride!