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My Chappelle Show

by Joe Donlon

Bio | Email | Follow: @pdxpeacock

Posted on July 15, 2009 at 3:34 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:32 PM

Everyone in the newsroom had been talking about it. There were rumors flying on Twitter. There were sightings around town. Wildly popular and elusive comedian Dave Chappelle was apparently in Portland -- somewhere. And to make the story even juicier, there was word that Chappelle was planning an impromptu show at Pioneer Courthouse Square - at midnight. As I wrapped up Live @ 7 from the Square, someone sent a tweet that had him at the Delta Cafe in Southeast.

After the summer we've had with movie star sightings - I figured it was probably true, but didn't give it much thought as I began my nightly walk back to the studio on SW Jefferson. Understand, there are probably 50 ways to get there, and each night - I seem to find a different path, depending on which way the wind blows. Last night, I happened to walk up Broadway - and as I made my way past the Heathman hotel, I looked over at two people sitting at a sidewalk table. I must have looked like a cartoon character - doing the animated double take- because it was HIM. Dave Chappelle was sitting right there -relaxing with a cup of coffee.

I introduced myself, and said, "So, it's true. You ARE here. Everyone's talking about it, you know." He was gracious and courteous - but clearly cautious when he heard I was a news anchor. That's why my next question probably wasn't the best. "What are you doing in town?" He cocked an eyebrow - gave me that classic Dave Chappelle look - and said, "You're a journalist? I'm not sure I want to answer that." Fair enough. So we moved on to other things - after I convinced him that I literally just happened to walk past.

I started with the rumor of this midnight show. He seemed genuinely surprised, and said - "How did you hear about that?" I told him about all the chatter we'd been hearing on Twitter and elsewhere - and he seemed almost stunned.

He then asked me about the local TV business. We talked about the dwindling ad revenues, the layoffs, the cutbacks, and the bankruptcies - and he was truly intrigued about the money, and where it all went. We talked about how people consume their news, the impact of the internet on that consumption, and our mutual admiration for Ted Koppel. He also added his take on the difference between 'news' and 'journalism' and the changes he thought had killed 'good journalism.'

Not wanting to hover, I thanked him for his time and told him to enjoy his visit. But as I walked away, he called me back - and wanted to talk about this midnight 'show.' What did I know about The Square, and could he do this without a permit? "Technically, you need a permit. It's a city park, and it closes at midnight," I told him. "But if YOU show up, I'm not really sure what would happen. I can tell you this, I will put out the word on Twitter - and on our newscasts, and you'll fill that place up." Chappelle shook his head, and said he didn't want me to do that. "I want it to be a 'word of mouth' thing." At which point, I said, "Twitter is the ultimate word of mouth -- and trust me, it's already out there." I went on to tell him that there was a stage set up for Noon Tunes, but I wondered how everyone was going to hear him. He told me he was thinking about bringing an amp - and doing a 20 minute set. He also said he asked a Portland police officer about this at some point during his visit, but he clearly had his doubts. We have since learned - that Chappelle said he had told a total of FIVE people he was thinking about doing this.

Honoring his request, I didn't tweet everything I knew. Hoping to give people a hint, however, I simply said, "I disagree with those of you doubting the Chappelle rumors, and that's ALL i'm saying."

Then, during our 11 o'clock news, it was clear that SOMETHING was going on at The Square. There were too many people there - to ignore. So, before Matt started his weather segment, we showed our Pioneer Courthouse Square camera - and talked about the Dave
Chappelle 'rumors' - and this possible 'show' at midnight. A group of us decided to join the speculation, and see if Chappelle would show. So, a bunch of us left the station - and joined the THRONGS of people streaming toward The Square - at midnight, on a Tuesday night. It was unreal. Granted, I had spent 15 minutes with the man - but I really had NO IDEA if this thing was going to happen. In fact, at about 12:50am, we decided to pack it in, and grab a cold beer and a bite up the street. At that point, police had the entire Square blocked off to traffic -- and there were THOUSANDS of people EVERYWHERE.

So, yes - we missed the show. Although apparently there wasn't much to 'hear.' Chappelle's idea with the amp - certainly wasn't enough to get the job done. But I can tell you this -- based on our conversation earlier in the evening, I truly believe there is NO WAY he thought that many people would show up.

Either way, it was an incredibly fun night for the crowd that gathered - even just to see the 'event.' It was also an amazing lesson in the power of social media - and word of mouth.

And perhaps more than anything, it was a testament to how popular Dave Chappelle is. Here's a guy who walked away from a multi million dollar offer from Comedy Central.. and he shows up at a public square in Porland, Oregon - for a free midnight show - with a battery powered amplifier.

How great is that?