Persnickety comedian Dave Chappelle has been co-headling Funny or Die's Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, but a rowdy crowd in Hartford, Connecticut last night upset Chappelle so much that he stopped performing less than halfway through his allotted time, before giving what some fans perceived to be a giant figurative middle finger to the audience.
Chappelle had been on stage for just ten minutes when shouts from fans (not surprisingly, "I'm Rick James, bitch!" was thrown around a lot) proved to be too much for the comedian, and he stopped his act. He used his remaining contractually obligated 15 minutes of performance time to sit on a stool, chain smoke cigarettes, and read passages from an audience member's book out loud. As the crowd booed him, Chappelle retorted with "You're booing yourself. I want you to go home and look in the mirror and say 'Boo.' Remember, that's how I feel about you." He then waited out his remaining time—in good spirits, whilst admonishing the angry crowd—and left the stage.
The Twitterverse has been abuzz since. Most fans who were at the show were furious, though a few defended him and blamed the noisy audience. Comedians like Patton Oswalt, who wasn't at the show, have come to his defense as well.
Decent video from the event tells a similar story:
Ebony's Lesli-Ann Lewis was in the audience and came to Chappelle's defense. Lewis points to race being a factor in the heckling of Chappelle; a complicated history of black performers and "white consumption," which is indeed an issue. Chappelle's walkoff however, can be attributed to a larger issue: audiences of all racial makeups not knowing when to sit down and shut the fuck up. Hecklers have long been a comedy show fixture, but comedians don't get paid to handle hecklers, they get paid to tell jokes. When hecklers take ability away from them, it's up to comedians like Chappelle to take a stand.
This isn't the first time Chappelle has refused to perform in response to an untamable audience—back in 2011, he stopped performing after just one joke at a charity event in Miami and used his remaining 45 minutes to sit on stage and sigh at the audience.