Dave Chappelle has two types of followers. There are the ones that want to watch him plunge into hot water and see how he swims his way out. Then there are the fans who worship him as a master storyteller who alternates between truth and hyperbole, leaning toward whichever one gets the biggest reaction.
Saturday's performance at Xcel Energy Center, his first official show in St. Paul, had just enough to satisfy both.
Chappelle, who turned 50 last month, had plenty of gasp-inducing material aimed at a variety of targets: Muslims, Michael Jackson, the physically disabled, Indian-Americans and Lil Nas X.
He said he was done making jokes about transgender people — "it wasn't worth the trouble" — and then proceeded to unload a few bullets that were left in the chamber.
The bits, taken out of context, could trigger more outrage like the kind he faced last summer when First Avenue canceled his appearance at the last moment and forced him to move to the Varsity Theater, where protesters mixed it up with the ticketholders waiting to get in.
But in concert, it's clear that Chappelle is just having fun. His most vicious lines were almost always punctuated with a little-kid grin and his slapping the mike against his thigh. A few times, he jogged around the square stage like he had just swiped some candy with every intention of returning the goodies to the store.
Chappelle has had more memorable appearances in the Twin Cities.
A decade ago, he did a 12-show marathon in Minneapolis that concluded with a basketball game and pancake dinner. After a 2021 screening of his documentary at Target Center, he surprised fans with a mini-concert featuring Usher and Justin Bieber. He's also popped up in smaller venues in the area to test new material.
There was little that was groundbreaking about this visit. A lot of his material — the Chris Rock/Will Smith slap, being tackled on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, almost being beat up by Russian mobsters — was old.
At one point, it appeared that he might share some personal stories about Prince, Norm Macdonald and Charlie Murphy, all of whom have passed away. But he pulled back; this wasn't that kind of night.
This was rock star Chappelle, whose main aim was to turn Xcel into a rave. The buildup was conducted by DJ Trauma, who pumped up the crowd with 1980s tunes and patter that made you think Elvis Presley might waddle out. The lighting and stage could have been for a heavyweight boxing match.
But once Chappelle took the stage, he turned Xcel into a comedy club, shifting his stool and stance so that he could play to all four sides of the arena. He even did some "crowd surfing," interacting with those in the front rows like he was Don Rickles doing a Vegas act. But for the most part, he played it safe. The passion that has made him the subject of so much controversy took a back seat to his desire to be an amiable host.
It was the openers that were more interested in shaking things up. Flame Monroe, a transgender comic based in California, might as well have been Redd Foxx in a dress. Marshall Brandon, an impressive new voice, had a clever pitch for Harriet Tubman sneakers.
Donnell Rawlings, a "Chappelle's Show" regular, also conjured up memories of Foxx by filling his set with a racial slur. His take on Shirley Caesar's "I Got Beans Greens Potatoes Tomatoes," one from a white perspective, made you hungry to hear more. His first Netflix special is coming soon.
Chappelle earned his fair share of big laughs as well. This was a genius on cruise control — and that's still a worthwhile trip.