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Who better to reopen Radio City Music Hall than Dave Chappelle?
The beloved, button-pushing comedian, who in the past, has sold out the famed New York venue 20 times, returned on Saturday night to premiere his new documentary, “Dave Chappelle: This Time This Place.” The screening closed out the Tribeca Festival and marked the first time in more than a year that Radio City welcomed a crowd.
Audience-goers were neither required to wear masks nor do temperature checks, but had to show proof of vaccination to enter the building. Smartphones were also locked in Yondr pouches at the door so no one could use them inside.
“We’re fully vaccinated and socially squished together,” Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal said before the screening. “Isn’t that great?”
“This Time This Place” was co-directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, the duo behind Netflix’s Oscar-winning documentary “American Factory.” The film was shot last summer in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Chappelle hosted a series of socially distanced shows at an outdoor pavilion lined by trees and cornfields.
Part of the fun of the doc is watching all the celebrities who drop in for shows throughout the summer, including David Letterman, Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Kevin Hart, and Trevor Noah. The sight of Jon Stewart and Michael Che squirming during COVID nasal swab tests earned knowing laughs from the audience at Radio City, as did Chris Rock, who was so shell-shocked to be back on stage that he good-naturedly bombed his first set back. Although, he still managed some sharp one-liners. (“This COVID (expletive), we all thought it’d be over by now, like, why did I get that abortion?”)
One of the highlights was a fireworks-filled Fourth of July blowout that Chappelle organized, featuring the likes of Tiffany Haddish, perfectly mimicking Tina Turner for a rendition of “Proud Mary,” and Jon Hamm, humorously leading the crowd in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
But “This Time This Place” is more than a comedy highlights reel. The film deftly explores the impact of Chappelle’s shows on Yellow Springs, a rural town that the comedian calls home with a population of less than 4,000 people. Reichert and Bognar interview small-business owners about financial hardships brought on by the pandemic, as well as the worry of out-of-towners pouring in to see Chappelle.
Residents were split over whether the shows should be shut down or continue, culminating in a surprisingly emotional town hall meeting over Zoom. The shows ultimately brought $9 million in revenue to the area and no known COVID cases, according to an ending title card.
This all happens against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests across Yellow Springs, which hang heavy over Chappelle as he tries to do comedy.
“You know the only reason I care? George Floyd,” Chappelle says before his first show, quickly addressing the “enormous elephant in the room” on stage. “White people, how do you live with yourselves?”
The documentary is ultimately about how comedians – like the rest of us – are trying to process the grief and isolation of the last year, offering an intimate and frequently moving snapshot of pandemic life. Michelle Wolf (of White House Correspondents Dinner fame) has a particularly fascinating arc over the course of the doc, as she learns to be more honest in her standup with the help of her friend and mentor Chappelle.
Chappelle appeared briefly on stage at Radio City at the end of the film, praising New Yorkers for how “resilient” they are before introducing a concert featuring rappers Fat Joe, Talib Kweli, ASAP Ferg and others.
Distribution and release plans for “This Time This Place” have not yet been announced.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dave Chappelle brings famous friends, COVID comedy to Tribeca Festival