It was quite a fitting caption, considering their obvious place among the greatest stand-up comedians of all time, but it also begged a question indirectly posed through one line on "Gotta Have It" by Jay Z and Kanye West on their Watch the Throne album.
"(Ain’t that where the Heat play? Niggas hate ballas these days) Yep! Ain’t that like LeBron James? (Ain’t that just like D-Wade? Wait)"
Which comedian in this equation is LeBron? Who is D-Wade? When those two superstars joined forces in the summer of 2010, analysts immediately started wondering which player would be the one taking the final shot when the game was on the line. Similarly, stand-up comedy needs a closer, someone who will confidently put the mic in their hand and take the praise or blame that comes with being the headliner. For that Heat team, it was James. For this hypothetical tour, also suggested in his caption, it would be Rock.
There's a moment in Deep in the Heart of Texas, the second of Chappelle's Netflix specials, where the comedian gets rattled in his own element. A person in the crowd shouts something in his direction, and Chappelle is clearly thrown off his game, which is saying a lot for someone who has been working at his craft for longer than many of us have been alive. Chappelle asks the crowd for a cigarette, sits on his stool, and brings the show to a screeching halt.
Stand-up comedians pride themselves on knowing that when they film their special, it's bulletproof. After weeks of testing out material and hammering out every little detail, there shouldn't be any loose ends. When Rock prepares for an hour, he makes sure no stone goes uncovered, keeping meticulous notes and pointing out the exact moments at which he'll add his trademark inflections and energy. Chappelle's latest specials felt disjointed, seemingly meandering through topics with very little payoff.
Watching stand-up is like a meal. It can be great, but if that last bite leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it can ruin the entire experience. Dave works fine as an appetizer, but leave the entrée to Rock.
In his first Netflix special, The Age of Spin, Chappelle dives head-first into topics like transgender people. Stand-ups traditionally tackle issues some might find difficult. We expect our comedians to “get in the shit,” one way or another, and turn us into a real-life version of that Alonzo Mourning GIF.
Their perspective on a hot-button issue may be controversial, but we should at least be able to see where they're coming from. Chappelle's outlook felt antiquated, grimy, and downright ignorant. Rock, who recently divorced his wife of 20 years, took an incredibly hard look at the downside of love and relationships in his 2004 special Never Scared.
His observations were cutting, but they were also rooted in the type of honesty that could be too hard to admit, especially when your partner is sitting right next to you in the theater. Rock spoke from his own experience, but that same perspective could be shared by anyone in a relationship. With Chappelle, there’s no anecdotal evidence of a transgender person flinging their penis on the table during a business meeting.
When Rock dropped his last stand-up special in 2008, he was around the age Chappelle is now and discussed issues that were identifiable with his audience. Chappelle seems increasingly reliant upon delivering inward-looking material, much of it difficult to relate to unless you're actually Dave Chappelle. Whether it's reflections on his celebrity status among everyday citizens or with his own family, he appears to have lost touch with much of his audience's cares and concerns. In one of his Netflix specials, he mentions police brutality and, shockingly, says that he will let Rock handle that matter. Chappelle from Killing Them Softly wasn't afraid of the topic.
When people head home after a comedy show, their attitude towards the entire night tends to depend entirely on the work of the headliner. It's the last person they see take the stage. If Chappelle and Rock head out on the road together, the strongest comedian will need to be the last one to put the mic in his hands. So give the ball to LeBron and watch him go to work.