Dave Chappelle made a surprise appearance at Madison Square Garden Saturday evening, performing a set for more than 20 minutes to open for Chris Rock and Kevin Hart.
Chappelle’s performance came only three days after Minneapolis venue First Avenue abruptly scrapped plans for the comedian to perform on site. Chappelle was instead hosted by the city’s Varsity Theater.
“To staff, artists and our community, we hear you and we are sorry,” First Avenue wrote in a statement. “We know we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we know we let you down. We are not just a black box with people in it, and we understand that First Ave is not just a room, but meaningful beyond our walls. The First Avenue team and you have worked hard to make our venues the safest spaces in the country, and we will continue with that mission. We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have.”
Chappelle briefly acknowledged the recent situation during his Madison Square Garden set.
“Despite what you may have read about in the news, I’m okay,” Chappelle told the crowd. “I appreciate the support.”
After Rock and Hart entertained the crowd for an hour, Chappelle reportedly returned to the stage. The three riffed about who among them is a comedian “G.O.A.T.” and dug into Will Smith’s now-infamous incident at this year’s Oscars in which he took the stage to slap Rock.
Chappelle has been a subject of controversy for nearly a year now, after his Netflix special “The Closer” was criticized by members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community for transphobic language. The comedian has defended his material, touting artistic expression.
Chappelle, usually a marquee name by himself, made another surprise appearance a show opener in May during an Ohio performance of John Mulaney’s “From Scratch” comedy tour. The collaboration drew criticism from some fans, who did not sign up for an evening of what they described as “transphobic jokes.”