It’s hard to tell what the goal was for Elon Musk’s doomed cameo alongside Dave Chappelle at the comedian’s San Francisco tour stop on Sunday. Was it supposed to be subversive? Social commentary? Actually funny?
“Ladies and gentlemen, make some noise for the richest man in the world,” Chappelle said from the stage according to several surreptitiously taken videos posted to Twitter. (The comedian famously does not allow phones at his shows.)
With a mic in hand, Musk waved to the crowd of thousands, who responded with heavy jeers sprinkled lightly with applause.
“Cheers and boos, I see,” Chappelle acknowledged. The pair then engaged in awkward banter from the stage but were immediately drowned out by more booing as the crowd of approximately 18,000 grew louder.
“Weren’t expecting this, were you?” Musk asked over the din of disapproval. Chappelle, ever the showman, tried to turn the tide by doing what he does best: make jokes. “It sounds like some of those people you fired are in the audience,” he said, referring to Musk’s controversial tenure at Twitter thus far.
Since taking over the San Francisco-based company in late October, Musk has caused significant upheaval online and off. He laid off thousands of employees and issued an ultimatum to those remaining, requiring that they commit to a “hardcore” Twitter or quit. Hundreds refused to sign the pledge, leaving Twitter a fraction of the size it was two months ago.
Some of the social media platform’s most prominent users followed suit, abandoning the site for other alternatives or pledging not to tweet because they were concerned about Musk’s leadership. Producer Shonda Rhimes, actress Tea Leoni and musician Sara Bareilles are among those who said they would stop posting.
Though there is a Twitter handle with Chappelle’s name and a “blue check verification,” the comedian said he does not actually have an account. On Sunday, Chappelle said the “verified” account, which hasn’t been updated since 2012 and has more than 1 million followers, was fake. But that was clearly no bother to Chappelle as he hosted the embattled site owner.
As the heckling continued, Chappelle doubled down in his jokey defense of Musk, pointing out that the people booing had “terrible seats.” But the sneers would not stop, and if anything they only grew louder as Musk’s mere presence seemed to offend.
“Whatever,” said Chappelle, who argued that Musk “is not even trying to die on Earth. His whole business model is ‘F--- Earth, I’m leaving anyway.’” That joke got a few laughs and seemed to slightly turn the tide from Musk’s random presence to Chappelle’s punchlines. “Boo all you want,” continued Chappelle, who added that he wanted to go to Mars with Musk.
More than five minutes in, the gag had seemed to run its course but Musk still hadn’t gracefully bowed out.
“Thanks for, uh, thanks for having me onstage,” he told Chappelle who, with his signature cigarette and drink in hand, appeared more than comfortable with the controversy he’d stirred up.
A representative for Chappelle did not return a request for comment from The Washington Post.
Chappelle, of course, is no stranger to drama. The comedian’s transphobic statements in his Netflix specials set off companywide protests. Following student criticism, he announced in June that the theater set to be named after him at his alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., would instead be dubbed the Theatre for Artistic Freedom & Expression. In a speech on Netflix that was filmed at the school, Chappelle staunchly defended his “freedom of artistic expression.”
He leaned into the budding chaos Sunday. “I wouldn’t miss this opportunity,” said Chappelle, who joked about the first comedy club on Mars, adding that the billionaire bought him a jetpack for Christmas. That did not help the boos.
Yet Musk, dressed in dark pants and a Twitter t-shirt, remained onstage. “Dave, what should I say?” Musk asked. “Don’t say nothing. It’ll only spoil the moment,” Chappelle replied. “Do you hear that sound, Elon? That’s the sound of pending civil unrest.”
Eventually, whatever moment the comedian had hoped to create seemed to spoil. As the heckling showed no signs of stopping, Chappelle appeared ready to pull the plug on whatever socio-comedic experiment was failing onstage.
“Booing is not the best thing you can do,” Chappelle said. “I am your ally. I wish everyone in this auditorium peace and the joy of feeling free. And may your pursuit of happiness make you happy. Amen.” He then thanked the city of San Francisco and wished the crowd good night.
But that wasn’t all. According to another video, Chappelle and Elon were joined onstage before the final curtain call by other A-listers including rapper Talib Kweli, who was suspended from Twitter in July for repeatedly violating the company’s rules. “Twitter customer service right here,” Musk said. “We’ll get right on that.”
In perhaps a bit of irony, fans in the audience that night took to Twitter to express their disappointment over Musk’s cameo. Writer James Yu, who attended the show, tweeted that Musk’s appearance added “no value at all” to the evening. Yu wrote that about 80 percent of the crowd booed, a number that Musk did not appear to agree with in separate tweets Monday morning.
Responding to a user who said Musk faced a crowd full of boos, Musk wrote: “Technically, it was 90% cheers & 10% boos (except during quiet periods), but, still, that’s a lot of boos, which is a first for me in real life (frequent on Twitter). It’s almost as if I’ve offended SF’s unhinged leftists … but nahhh.”
It was one of a few reactions the billionaire tweeted Monday morning, despite largely remaining quiet on the stage. But he provided at least one solid viral moment Sunday night. With Chappelle’s encouragement, Musk shouted into the mic one of the most famous lines from the cult classic “The Chappelle Show.”
“I’m rich, b-----,” Musk yelled as the comedian cheered and some in the crowd cringed.
Rachel Lerman contributed to this report.