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Me, Dave Chappelle and My Yarmulke

Me, Dave Chappelle and My Yarmulke

Comedian Dave Chappelle taught me an important lesson about being Jewish.


The first time I went to a comedy club in New York City I sat in the very front row. That was my first mistake. But I was a boy who grew up in a small town watching comedians on TV and this was my first trip to the big city, so I didn't want to miss a second of it. My second mistake was when I basically drew a bulls-eye on my face.

"So anyone here from out of town?" asked the MC almost resigned to the fact that no one would be dumb enough to respond. But wait! It was his lucky day because there was, in fact, somebody very dumb in the audience. Me!

"Oh, me! Pick me!" I said as I shot my hand up in the air like a child in grade school who knew the right answer. "I'm from out of town," I said proudly.

"You are, are you?" the MC said as he licked his lips at the bait that was dangling in front of him. "So where are you from?" he asked, probably the same way the Wolf spoke to Little Red Riding Hood.

"I am from Canada," I said, proud of both my native land, and the fact that I had now become the star of the show.

"Canada, eh?" he said, presumably making fun of my nation's only invention -- the word 'eh.' "And who is this lovely lady who is sitting beside you. Is that your mother?"

"No, she is my father's friend" I said innocently, explaining why I was in a comedy club with a woman over twice my age who I hardly knew. (She was an old high school friend of my father's who now lived in New York. All three of us went out to dinner and were supposed to go to the comedy club together when my father got called out on business at the last minute). The MC's eyes lit up; he had hit the jackpot.

"That's why I hate you Canadians -- because you are all sick."

"That's why I hate you Canadians -- because you are all sick," he began and continued a tirade against me, my family, my country and everyone who I had ever known while the people in the crowd lapped it up. For the rest of the evening, each successive comedian would simply come up on stage and say, "Where's that Canadian guy who's here with his father's lady friend?" The audience would gladly point me out of the lineup, and the comedian would do his take on why I was dumb.


After that experience, you can't blame me for not wanting to make a return visit to a comedy club on my next trip to New York. But as luck would have it some friends I was visiting had already planned our weekend activities, which of course included a visit to a local comedy club. I wanted to bow out, but the tickets were purchased and there wasn't much I could do, except for one thing: insist that I get to choose our seats.

When we entered the club, I immediately headed for the back corner, behind the lights, sound booth, and janitorial closet. I selected the three seats with the worst view on the club. There was even a mop and a box of Mr. Clean obstructing our view of the stage. Our seats were perfect.

The MC came on, asked if there was anyone from out of town, and I sat on my hands. He introduced a few opening comics, and we sat through their routines until the evening's headliner came out -- Dave Chappelle

Today Dave Chappelle is famous. He has/had his own show on Comedy Central, and is regarded by many as the number one stand-up comic in American today. But back then, before he had his TV show, his Rick James impersonation, and his dispute with the network, he was just a great stand up comedian.

He opened his act by talking about his recent trip to the lone-star state. "You know, I was in Texas the other day doing a few shows, and I have something to say about what's going on down there, people. I know this ain't going to sound so politically correct, but you know what -- they just don't like us brothers down there in Texas."

Dave got a few laughs from the audience, as he was just setting up his first bit. All of the sudden, he stopped and looked towards the back of the club.

"Shalom, my brother," he said in my direction.

Could he be talking to me?

"Please, please, please, God. Please don't let him be talking to me," I pleaded under my breath.

But I knew he was talking to me. You see, I'm an observant Jew and wear a kippah. I can be picked out of a crowd as a representative of my people no matter where I am -- even in a dark and dingy comedy club.

"I see my Jewish brother hiding back there in the corner wearing his yarmulke," Dave said as the rest of the crowd turned back to see me cowering in fear.

"Shalom, my Jewish brother," Dave persisted again.

But I was sitting in the back corner behind the box of Mr. Clean. How could he even see me? Did he have x-ray comic vision or something?

"I see my Jewish brother hiding back there in the corner wearing his yarmulke," Dave said as the rest of the crowd turned back to see me cowering in fear.

Our society is thankfully an open, tolerant and respectful one, where wearing a kippah is almost always seen as a badge of Jewish pride. But occasionally, there are moments when kippah wearers such as myself think that our friendly neighbors are going to turn on us and tell us to leave town immediately. This was one of those moments.

"Don't be afraid my little Jewish brother. I see you with your yarmulke hiding in the corner behind the box with the picture of that bald white guy with the earring." I was slipping lower and lower into my seat. If there was an escape hatch in the floor, I would have pulled it.

"Okay, I can see you are shy my Jewish brother, but there's no reason to be afraid. I love your people and that yarmulke on your head. But I will tell you one thing, if you were down in Texas the other day with me, you'd take that yarmulke and put it in the glove compartment, because they don't like a brother down in Texas, but they don't like a Jew down there neither!"

The crowd was now in hysterics.

"But you know what, my yarmulke wearing Jewish brother?" Dave continued. "Forget what they think of us in Texas, or any where else for that matter. Let's you and me do a world tour together. We can call it ‘Black Man and Yarmulke Boy' and we can show everyone that we are proud of who we are."

After I had time to reflect on this extremely surreal experience, I couldn't help but realize that Dave was right. On my first trip to New York, I spoke up about the fact that I was Canadian and got burned. This time, I thought I would remain silent about my Jewish identity, but no matter how silent I tried to be, my kippah was talking for me. It said that I was part of a wonderful people, and a proud tradition going back over 3000 years, even though my body language was saying, "Please don't look at me, because if you do I am going to cry."

Dave was right -- there was nothing to be afraid of. I wear a yarmulke. I am Jewish, and I shouldn't care who knows it. In fact, check your local listing because you just might see me, Dave Chappelle and my yarmulke coming to your home town on our world tour of 'Black Man and Yarmulke Boy.' It's going to be a great show.

September 16, 2006

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 19

(19) Puregoldj, September 29, 2006 10:39 PM

The Real Test for Texas...


(18) Ron, September 28, 2006 12:32 AM

Not true

I am in the DFW area and most of Texans have no problems with Blacks or Jews but the Blacks sometimes have problems with us but I only know one Jew who had a problem with Texans but now he lives in PA, which is an equal opportunity hater state. I know, as I was like a POW up there for awhile and heard more slurs about more groups of people then I ever heard in Texas or anywhere in the South. Remember, Judah Benjamin was the CSA Secretary of State and many Jews fought for the South as did many Blacks. "Trouble" started mainly due to Reconstruction crimes by the Fed forces. Before that things were much different. So, I guess I need to close this with, "YO! Shalom Dog!"

(17) Anonymous, September 23, 2006 9:31 PM

Wearing Star of David

I proudly wear my star of David. As the matter of fact I started wearing it before I knew I was Jewish. I love Israel and all Jews. Be proud my friends, be proud.

(16) Anonymous, September 19, 2006 8:09 PM

mogen davids at walmart

if people are going to be negative about jews at wal-mart or elsewhere let them be. not wearing our badges of jewish identity simply gives in to their hatred and ignorance. what we should do is be exactly the opposite of the jewish stereotype they have so perhaps to keep in the back of our mind that we are ambassadors of judaism when we show our jewish pride.
as dave chappelle would probably note you can't take off being black to the outside world so then the options are either to hide or go out into that world.

(15) DennisL.Henley, September 19, 2006 9:09 AM

Enlightened "Black Boy"

As a "Black Boy" now 45, I found the point of the story encouraging. Being raised a black baptist who became enlightened to Judaism immediately following September 11th, I've had a five year search of real religious identity. I've discovered that there are many things that Blacks and Jews have in common, and that there is a "strange" bond between us if we will only look closely. I'm eternally grateful to the Chosen People and the invaluable gift of the One True G-d and His Word that they have shared with all humanity.

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