Dave Chappelle’s untitled documentary film premiered at the Kennedy Center last weekend. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

By Micha Green
D.C. and Digital Editor

Donning face masks and stylish outfits, thousands packed into The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall for Untitled: Dave Chappelle Documentary Film, on Aug. 1 at 8 p.m.

People waited in wonder on what exactly they were getting themselves into as they were greeted with Chappelle masks and then given a locked pouch to prevent them from using their phones.

Even with folks masked up, this reporter saw a who’s who of D.C.’s elite and celebrities packing the theatre all looking bright-eyed ready for the D.M.V. legend’s documentary.

“This is the very first full capacity event at the Kennedy Center since March 2020,” said filmmaker Julia Reichert in excitement when introducing the documentary with filmmaker and her husband Steven Bognar.

Even before the film began the filmmakers reminded audiences that “we’re all on a rollercoaster together.”

“You were here,” Reichert reminded the audience. “We hope the evening will be something that is memorable and enjoyable.”

And for this reporter it was.

The documentary, all filmed and edited by young Ohio filmmakers, documented Chappelle’s performances at a farm in Yellow Springs, Oh, where he brought world-renowned comedians to this small town for performances during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I did feel the urgency to do something and then George Floyd happened,” Chappelle said in the film. He was told that there was “no way,” he could pull off these live shows, but then he did.

Rain or clear, night sky, comedians including Chappelle, Donnell Rawlings, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, David Letterman, Michelle Wolf, Chelsea Handler, Mo Amer and many more graced the pavilion stage in Yellow Springs for a night of what director Reichert said made comedy and documentary so closely related, “truth.”

“Documentary film, comedy, yeah they’re kind of different, but it’s all about telling the truth,” Reichert said.

The truth of the not so recent past emanated from the screen as audiences rode on the rollercoaster ride with the comedians, who, after months of not performing, came to a tiny town to perform for a small audience during one of the hardest global trials of the last century. Between the police brutality and blatant racism in America, the uncertainties and fatalities surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and people being cooped in their homes for months, the comedians had a lot to talk about – and they did.

Chappelle and the other legendary performers did what comedians were supposed to do- told it like it was. Some of the time the comedians delivered the honest commentary through humor, but it was always with a heavy dose of truth. “Well don’t you White folks feel guilty now,” Chappelle quipped.

The documentary features Chappelle at home with his family, brainstorming the concerts, planning performances with his team and other artists and showing the comedy-star as a mentor for other comedians.

Chappelle’s shows offered a safe space for comedy and live performances during a time of uncertainty, fear, sickness, protests and death.

For last year’s Fourth of July celebration, Chappelle brought out the likes of comedian Tiffany Haddish, and performances from Common, Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli. The evening ended with fireworks and a major jam session.

Several audience members were featured in the documentary saying how much Chappelle’s live performances meant to them during the difficulties of the pandemic era. “I need to laugh because I’ve been crying since March 15,” one audience member said in the film.

However, there were people none too pleased with Chappelle’s shows, including a land inspector and some nearby neighbors.

The film features the show’s producers fighting for changes to land rules with an inspector and the Yellow Springs Council in order to keep the performances going.

Bringing the truth and laughter to audiences was the priority and the film shows how it prevails.

After the film audiences were treated to brief commentary from D.C.’s pride and joy himself – Chappelle. “There’s no place like home,” Chappelle said after the audience had calmed down from cheering and roaring loudly on their feet.

The comedian took the time to speak on some of the trials facing the District currently, including, the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, which he called, “unacceptable,” and the violence plaguing the area. “Now, more than ever, protect one another,” Chappelle said passionately.

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor