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I had a front row seat to Dave Chappelle’s sold-out show last night in Olde Towne East – here’s how it went

I had a front row seat to Dave Chappelle’s sold-out show last night in Olde Towne East – here’s how it went

Sav McKee

I’ve been in the same room with Dave Chappelle twice in my life: the first time was almost a decade ago while in line at a Yellow Springs coffee shop that I frequented on the weekends. The second time occurred last night, at a local, cozy comedy club in Olde Towne East, where I had a front row seat to his hour and a half stand-up, so close to Chappelle that I was practically sharing his cigarette(s).

The Attic, a small comedy club situated on the corner of Oak Street, announced a surprise pop-up show yesterday morning, featuring none other than Dave Chappelle. This marks the third time they’ve announced a day-of show for $150 a ticket – and, as expected, it’s the third time they’ve sold out in seconds. 

“It would be bonkers if we announced the show weeks or months in advance. People would call me every day like, ‘Oh my god I can’t buy tickets!’” explained Bo Stenger, the owner of The Attic. As he was telling me that, his phone rang – someone was begging him for tickets. He encouraged them to follow his Instagram account, where he posts the ticket links, for some better luck next time. 

Stenger explained that Chappelle has developed an affinity for this tiny, OTE club, reminiscent of a speakeasy or intimate club you’d find in a bigger city. “This reminds him of where he first started out his comedy. It’s a New York type of club – it provides the nostalgia of The Village.” 


Given all this, I couldn’t resist an invitation to check out something so coveted and controversial, to be quite honest. I’m the type of person that seeks out new, unique experiences, and a seat at a speakeasy comedy club starring Chappelle promised to be just that – and boy, was I right.

My evening began with a beer across the street, watching as a long line formed outside the doors of the comedy club. Two street performers were jamming out and entertaining the crowd. I took notice of the diversity in the line, which challenged my expectations, to be transparent.

I took my spot in line, where someone handed me a bag marked with a big “C” for Chappelle, instructing me to stow my phone. It clicked, locked, and I knew I’d have to rely on my memory for the night’s details. After clearing security, I climbed the stairs and was unexpectedly captivated by the club’s atmosphere. It had the vibe of a dive bar, with The Three Stooges playing on the TV hung above the bar, and old bumper stickers stuck to the walls. 

Surveying the room, I spotted a local politician, a well-known real estate agent, and familiar faces from the local arts scene. It dawned on me that everyone else was here for an experience, too. I took my place in the front row, about two feet away from the microphone, next to a couple (not intentionally – it was somehow literally the only empty seat left).

Photo of the stage via The Attic’s Instagram

The opening acts were hilarious, and that wasn’t just the incredibly potent gin & tonic I ordered from the bar talking. I thought Jason Banks’ jokes about fatherhood, a career, and Blackness in general were spectacular, and his positive energy permeated the entire room. Nef Johnson followed, entering the room to the song, Sweet Caroline, where he roped in the audience members to sing along with him. We did, and of course, the fact that white people love that song was the butt of his first joke. The entire room erupted with laughter.

Next up was Donnell Rawlings, who frequented The Chappelle Show and The Wire. I find it hysterical when people are able to make fun of themselves (instead of just others, honestly), and Rawlings discussing his failed relationships and all of the negatives of being a Sagittarius had me laughing out loud (as a Sagittarius myself). I really, thoroughly, enjoyed his bit.

When Dave Chappelle burst through the curtains onto the stage, the audience greeted him with a standing ovation, as if he already performed his set. This seemed to set the theme for the rest of the evening: people were going to laugh, holler, and applaud him no matter what he did or no matter what he said. Except for one person, who I couldn’t help but notice glaring at Chappelle, and he eventually got up and left. Chappelle noticed, too: he pointed to the empty chair and said to the crowd, “He knows what I’m about. He knew what he was getting into by coming here.”

I won’t divulge any of Chappelle’s jokes here, for I don’t want to be the one to spoil a Netflix special, and there was a reason our phones were locked in a bag. In fact, Dave even quipped at one point, before getting to his notoriously crude (hey, that’s why we’re there, no?) punchline of a joke, “You guys don’t have your phones, right? They’re locked?” and his manager had to assure him we didn’t have them before he went on.

They’re not my jokes to tell, and I also felt as if they weren’t my jokes to laugh at, in a way.

The feeling I was picking up on was that this was Chappelle’s night to have some fun, and witnessing it felt like a privilege – a secret, really. His performance didn’t seem rehearsed – it wasn’t meticulously curated, and he ran over the set time – and that’s precisely what people paid $150 for. It felt more like we were all at a bar with him, not necessarily a show. He appeared relaxed – maybe a little too relaxed (I’m sure the beer and tequila he consistently drank throughout his set, plus the 6 cigarettes, contributed to that). It seemed as if he was warming up, practicing, in a low-stakes crowd, but for his usual high-stakes performances at Madison Square Garden in NYC or the United Center in Chicago. I was fine with being the guinea pig, and I think the crowd felt the same. 

I should note that I’d be very surprised to see some of his jokes make it onto any Netflix special. I think those jokes are reserved just for a space such as The Attic and for a smaller crowd.

At one point, I watched his giant, gold and diamond “C” chain around his neck glistening in the low-light from the vintage lamp, smoke wafting through the air from the cigarette in one of his hands, and his shot of tequila in another, also glimmering in the light, hearing people laughing, and I realized that although I didn’t necessarily find the set to be his best, or funniest even, this intimate experience was something I had been searching for in Columbus, but didn’t necessarily know it until last night.

His set ended with a mic drop, cigarette toss, and a heartfelt “thank you.”

The Attic and its owner, Bo Stenger, know that what they’re doing is working – while the club may look unpresuming from the street, one can’t help but feel a part of a type of culture, or counterculture, while in there, and it’s clear why, and how, Dave Chappelle keeps booking the space, and why there’s a line outside of the doors when he does.

Ultimately, I came to see Chappelle, but I stayed for the ambiance.

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