Dave Chappelle took Bay Area fans to church early Friday morning, appropriately awash in a purple glow during his fourth sold-out show this week at the Chapel in San Francisco.
The comedian hit the stage underneath the 1914 building’s peaked, vaulted ceiling, just after 2 a.m. Friday, in a crisp button-down black shirt and jeans. He looked solemn — and rightfully so. “This is black 9/11,” he said of the death of music titan Prince, less than 24 hours earlier.
“I almost thought about not coming tonight, but my band was like, ‘Yo, Prince would definitely not condone that,’” said Chappelle, who announced the additional “late late” show Wednesday, April 20. “And now there is no place I’d rather be.”
Prince Rogers Nelson died at 57 at his Paisley Park estate near Minneapolis on Thursday, April 21. News exploded online, spurring fans to raid Bay Area records stores clean of Prince music and memorabilia by lunchtime. And Chappelle — well, he said his phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
Prince was a star known for his beautiful protégés Carlos Santana performs during the Greenwich Town Party at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park, Greenwich, Conn., Saturday, May 24, 2014. One of the last records Prince bought was by Carlos Santana Prince in “Purple Rain.” Pay tribute to Prince at these Bay Area events Ma’Cherris Johnson-Colbert discusses Prince’s music before buying the last of the artist’s CDs remaining at Rasputin Music in Berkeley, Calif. on Thursday, April 21, 2016. Prince is mourned and celebrated by Bay Area fans Prince sits courtside in the first half as the Golden State Warriors played the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, March 3, 2016. Prince, musical and social trailblazer, dies at 57
“I kept wondering all day, ‘Why are they calling me?’” he said of the media inquiries he received. “I’ll tell you what: I didn’t know him well, but I knew him well.”
While a comedic wunderkind in his own right, from his movie appearances and years in standup, Chappelle’s 2004 impersonation of the Purple One may be one of his most famous roles.
In what Time magazine is calling “the iconic ‘Chappelle’s Show’ sketch,” Chappelle plays Prince in a “True Hollywood Story”-like retelling of a basketball game between Charlie Murphy and his friends against Prince and the Revolution that ended in Prince cooking pancakes. It’s a few minutes of comedic gold that even Prince admitted he loved.
“I feel his caricature of Prince was respectful, while still being a caricature,” Carey Lamprecht, 42, of San Francisco said about the viral segment. “It was a great homage.”
Her twin sister, Amber, agreed. The two have the full DVD set of “Chappelle’s Show,” the short-lived Comedy Central series that Chappelle chose to end in 2004, and said those sketches in the early aughts helped them through tough times. On Thursday morning, that Prince sketch was what Amber thought about when she heard the news of the artist’s death.
“The first thing I did was make pancakes,” she said. “I ate them slowly in his memory, and the only reason why I made that connection was because of Dave Chappelle.”
Chappelle knew that fans drew that connection between him and Prince, and while no one was expecting him to preach at the Chapel, there was certainly the anticipation that he was going to pay his respects to the groundbreaking and genre-defying artist who produced hits and revolutionized pop music since the ’70s.
Chappelle ended up dedicating much of the four-hour show to Prince, sharing stories of how his sister introduced him to the funky music, how he was finally introduced to Prince in real life and how much he respected Prince’s fight to protect the rights of musicians and artists.
Backed by a band, Chappelle’s set was as much as a musical tribute as it was a laugh fest. He often encouraged the band to keep jamming since he believed they could “say more with music than I could ever say … all I have are pussy jokes left anyway.”
Martin Luther McCoy, a San Francisco singer who wore a black shirt that read “Purple Reign,” provided vocals for the night. He and the band performed a medley of Prince hits including sing-alongs like “Kiss” and “Nothing Compares 2 U,” during which Chappelle often had his head bowed. At one point, just after 3 a.m., Chappelle unsheathed a shiny tambourine that bore the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince” symbol.
“F— 4/20. 4/21 is the day the music decided to live forever,” Chappelle proclaimed.
As master harmonica player Frédéric Yonnet performed “Purple Rain” with the band, Chappelle held up his lighter, prompting the 400 fans in the crowd to do the same — and these were real lighters. There were no smartphones in this crowd; those phones were locked in high-tech pouches, provided by the S.F.-based startup Yondr, to keep the audience focused on the epic tribute on stage.
Toward the end of the show, still with hundreds of fans enraptured despite knowing the sunrise was less than an hour away, Chappelle commanded the band to “take us back to church” with gospel-like jams that brought the crowd to its feet clapping.
“It’s so much better that we grieve together,” Chappelle said.
Mariecar Mendoza is the arts content editor for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SFMarMendoza