Vinay Menon, a standup comedian and the head writer and a producer on Chappelle’s Show, was at the Montalban Theater the other night with three of his friends. They were sitting in the front row of the theater and waited nervously as another comedian went on stage. But eventually one of the friends, showing an incredible amount of calm, told the other three to just enjoy the moment, be themselves, and trust the chemistry onstage to sustain them through the set.
“Dave Chappelle has never been known for confrontation onstage,” said Menon, who later in the night himself gave a comedy set about Asian Americans. The last man onstage, the comedian of course, went on to remind the crowd, with characteristic aplomb, of the kind of crowd he likes to work in.
But Chappelle wasn’t there. And Menon wasn’t his only guest, and just another standup comedian without a huge name. He wasn’t even part of a “Dave Chappelle Tour.” Those bits are a very recent thing and Menon’s company was one of them.
For Menon, a comedy writer and producer, the biggest story of the day, at least in his world, was something that had happened just the night before. Bill Cosby had been accused by women of drugging and raping them decades ago, a story that was emerging without him even having to actually acknowledge being part of it. During that brief moment, Chappelle’s name echoed throughout the sea of faces in the crowd as a GIF of his famous soliloquy from “The Chappelle Show” replayed on the huge screen behind the stage:
He wasn’t in attendance then, but he was nominated for Best Comedy Album for that sketch. His name was in all the reviews, and Menon was kept busy scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook trying to figure out how to tell his friends.
Menon lived in New York City during Chappelle’s years on the Comedy Central show, and was on the crew when it was shooting out of the West Village bar Panache. Chappelle was one of the most beloved characters on TV, and there was a real sense of prestige — and nearly cult-like fan loyalty — attached to him. He was very accessible and to Menon, those qualities shone through his touring in New York with the Two Dope Queens sketch show he co-hosts with Phoebe Robinson.
“I would have loved to have met Dave over these six years and I almost did,” Menon said. “It was in New York. It was at that bar where that sketch was shot, at the Greenhouse Theater.”
But Chappelle had plenty of international popularity and pulled in almost $3 million for a single-show residency in Las Vegas. And yet Menon was still working with that fan base, another signature hallmark of the success of Chappelle’s Show, and usually unaware of the singer of the song by Ludacris, MC Hammer, that accompanied the “Chappelle’s Show” bit.
Menon ended up calling home to tell his parents that he was going to change his flights and go the next day. He said his mom responded: “Oh, don’t worry about it. You’re going to be fine. You’re Dave Chappelle’s guest. You’re not getting canceled.”
“Dave is,” Menon said. “He’s a movie star in Japan.”