“Ladies and gentlemen, make some noise for the richest man in the world.”
San Francisco did not disappoint.
In response to Dave Chappelle’s cue to the Chase Center crowd Sunday night, Elon Musk—the CEO of Twitter and self-appointed hall monitor of free speech—joined the comedian onstage in what can only be described as a cringey ending to an otherwise very strong night of stand-up comedy.
A few stunned cheers quickly morphed into whistles and jeers before congealing into a sustained howl of disapproval.
I was among the teeth-gnashing plebes in the nosebleeds. My buddy bought the tickets and offered me one as a last resort—all of his closer and more attractive friends were busy. I thought to pull my phone out and record, but then I remembered that security forced people to lock them up to gain entry. Some folks were sneakier.
Chappelle, a legend in the game, clearly knew what he was doing in bringing Musk onstage. He basically was on the receiving end of the same scene in “Half Baked.”
But for Musk, also the head of Tesla and SpaceX, the crowd’s response must have been a bit unnerving, even if he is well aware that his unpopularity has surged since he took over Twitter.
He did his best to ham it up.
Musk raised his arms. He gave a relatively smug shrug as if none of this bothered him. He raised an arm again and waved in the very natural way all of us do when we can’t reach something on the top shelf. Then he gave a Rocky-style double fist thrust into the air.
“Cheers and boos, I see,” Chappelle said. He added with a shrug, “Controversy, man.”
The crowd responded with muffled boos.
Musk replied to Chappelle: “Weren’t expecting this, were you?”
The crowd responded with more riled boos.
“It sounds like some of them people you fired are in the audience,” Chappelle joked to a good amount of laughs. Musk found it funny, too.
But the awkwardness continued, which forced Chappelle—who seemed to have no plan beyond bringing one of the most polarizing figures in the world onstage—to offer a half-hearted defense.
“All these people who are booing—and I’m just pointing out the obvious—they have terrible seats,” Chappelle said.
That statement got laughs but also seemed a bit weird. Even the terrible seats to a show starring Chappelle with Chris Rock as the co-headliner cost a couple hundred bucks. But there is a tier of celebrity 99.99999% of us will never know. Chappelle, Rock and Musk are part of this exclusive club.
And while the three of them—or at least Chappelle and Rock compared with Musk—would seem to have little in common, they can probably empathize with one another because only they know what it’s like to be truly loved and hated by millions of complete strangers.
Make no mistake, though: This was a strange way to end a night. A few other off-hand jokes could barely be heard in the upper reaches of Chase Center before Chappelle apparently concluded: “I wish everyone in this auditorium peace and the joy of feeling free. And your pursuit of happiness. Amen.”
If there was a winner in all of it, it wasn’t Musk or even Chappelle, but rather Chris Rock. The man—dressed in an all-white fit and wearing a Prince symbol necklace—absolutely killed it.
His set was tight front to back. He touched on the smack heard ’round the world, the disadvantage of publicly fighting a guy who played Muhammad Ali, the benefits of dating while old, rich and famous, and why no one will ever outwork short, ugly dudes. It was top-level craft, and Rock had the audience in his palm from start to finish.
Then things got musky.
Josh Koehn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org