Stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle performed a series of shows the first week of March at the New Parish  in Downtown Oakland. Known for his feather ruffling yet poignant views on race, class, politics and pop culture, the Wed. March 3 show started out with commentary on sexuality and gender.
Greatly offending at least one audience member, Chappelle’s opening story was about a San Franciscan “man with titties.” Despite strong warnings from security that hagglers would be escorted out, one disapproving woman, a self-identified lesbian, stood up in the crowd and demanded to know why the audience found the jokes about a trans woman so funny. Just as security warned, the woman was asked to leave, although she and her date seemed to have been on their way out already.
“Its not very original or cool to come to San Francisco and tell gay jokes,” said Courtney Nuding, a Mills College alumna who also attended Wednesday’s show. “But that’s also what he does – he makes offensive jokes. So you should be prepared for that if you’re going to spend $55 to see him. I feel bad that the lady got kicked out, but I mean, we all just spent 55 bucks to get offended.”
Chappelle insisted he didn’t mean to offend and that his gay jokes were not judgment calls. He even said he was surprised by the woman’s response — but not too surprised. After a few jokes about how the Bay Area is full of “gay gangsters” [his term for queer people who stand up for queer rights and/or use their social networking power to run politics] he very seriously stated that gender and sexuality are becoming hot-button issues. “Gender is the new race,” he said.
For the rest of his set, Chappelle cracked jokes on Barack Obama, Arab and Mexican immigrants and Haight Street homeless kids whose parents live in Marin. No matter the joke or the story, Chappelle always got a reaction from the crowd with his cartoon-like faces and body language. His suggestive use of the microphone was a hit too.
The show drew a diverse crowd, the New Parish provided a comfortable and intimate environment and Chappelle kept the crowd pleased – for the most part.
Maybe his increased attention to gender and sexuality has come from his time spent in the Bay Area, known for its queer and gay friendly politics and atmosphere. According to SF Weekly writer, Zoneil Maharaj , San Francisco is one of Chappelle’s favorite cities and he comes here regularly. “He does a series of unannounced shows in San Francisco every few months or so which get leaked on the radio, spread by word of mouth and sell out within minutes,” wrote Maharaj in 2007 article about the comedian.
This time around, he has spent more time in the East Bay. His weekday shows at the New Parish began in early February. According to a recent interview with Chappelle on 98.1 KISS FM, payday at the club fell on a Saturday last weekend, so when he went over to pick up his paycheck, he became an unexpected guest at that evening’s People’s Party — although he said he didn’t stay long. He also made a surprise appearance at Erykah Badu’s Valentine’s Day performance at the Fox Theater and has been spotted riding BART and shopping on Piedmont Avenue in North Oakland.
After all his time spent here in the Bay’s gay-friendly bubble, Chappelle has gained at least one thing from the queer community: a little bit of style. “I am wearing a lesbian shirt,” he declared, referencing his beige plaid button-down after his first haggler of the night walked out.