On December 11 2022, newly-minted Twitter owner Elon Musk joined comedian Dave Chappelle on stage in San Francisco, leading to an immediate chorus of “boos” from the crowd.
As is often the case, Musk’s appearance at Chappelle’s show occurred against the backdrop of other events and controversies.
What’s Going on With Elon Musk?
As of December 11 2022, Musk remained a daily feature of the news cycle.
As widely predicted by its user base, Twitter under Musk proved to be chaotic. Metrics concerning trends and hate speech shifted almost immediately, as a December 2 2022 New York Times article reported:
The shift in speech is just the tip of a set of changes on the service under Mr. Musk. Accounts that Twitter used to regularly remove — such as those that identify as part of the Islamic State, which were banned after the U.S. government classified ISIS as a terror group — have come roaring back. Accounts associated with QAnon, a vast far-right conspiracy theory, have paid for and received verified status on Twitter, giving them a sheen of legitimacy.
These changes are alarming, researchers said, adding that they had never seen such a sharp increase in hate speech, problematic content and formerly banned accounts in such a short period on a mainstream social media platform.
“Elon Musk sent up the Bat Signal to every kind of racist, misogynist and homophobe that Twitter was open for business,” said Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. “They have reacted accordingly.”
In November 2022, the introduction of “Twitter Blue” allowed any user willing to pay $8 access to a “verified” blue check mark. That decision backfired immediately:
After Twitter rolled out its new paid verification system, chaos quickly ensued.
Fake verified accounts flooded Twitter after the platform launched [in November 2022] a revamped Twitter Blue subscription service that gives users the coveted blue check mark for $8 a month.
Twitter accounts with check marks impersonated consumer brands Eli Lilly, PepsiCo and Nintendo, and public figures including Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, President Joe Biden and basketball player LeBron James.
The verified account posing as the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly tweeted a spoof message saying insulin was now free.
Meanwhile, the blue-checked account pretending to be Lake tweeted a fake concession announcement.
Musk provided internal Twitter documents (which he called the “Twitter Files“) to writers such as Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss in December 2022, further drawing attention to the platform’s moderation practices. In the aggregate, Musk insinuated himself into the news cycle at the end of October 2022 and remained there through the rest of the year.
What’s Dave Chappelle Been Up To?
Chappelle also appeared in the news in late 2022, although not nearly as often as Musk.
Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live on November 12 2022, addressing controversies involving Kanye West and antisemitism in his monologue. At the time, CNN published a “timeline” of controversies involving the comic’s material about transgender people:
[On November 12 2022] Dave Chappelle will host “Saturday Night Live” for the third time – an appearance that is courting controversy before he even takes the stage.
The comedian has drawn increasing ire in recent years for making jokes aimed at transgender people, and the outcry grew louder [in late 2021] when Netflix released a Chappelle special, “The Closer,” in which he doubled down on his comments.
Netflix stood by Chappelle, who went on a national tour after the special and largely ignored the controversy after addressing it in his act.
Chappelle’s appearance began with a 15-minute routine, during which he spoke at length about Kanye West and antisemitism. The set was widely analyzed, and the AV Club summarized its content and resulting discourse:
Deciding to invite back a host who has been condemned for anti-transgender sentiments was a statement on the part of Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live, and the venerated program decided to go all-in on its support for Chappelle by allowing him a lengthy 15-minute monologue … Chappelle covered a lot of ground in those 15 minutes, but perhaps most notably he discussed the recent antisemitic behavior of figures like Kyrie Irving and his friend Kanye West. Among other things, Chappelle joked that “it’s not a crazy thing to think” that Jewish people control Hollywood, “But it’s a crazy thing to say out loud in a climate like this.”
“A climate like this,” to be clear, is one in which there is a precipitous rise in antisemitism, in America and beyond, so it is a cause for concern that Chappelle would use an institutional platform to reinforce antisemitic tropes. (He stated that Jewish people don’t “run the place,” yet also claimed Ye “broke showbusiness rules” by identifying Jewish people as controlling Hollywood, which is “a coincidence and you should never talk about it,” he said facetiously to the laughter of the crowd.)
In spite of those controversies, Chappelle drew crowds to his December 11 2022 show, part of a tour with fellow comedian Chris Rock.
What Happened When Chappelle Brought Musk On Stage?
The words “chaos ensued” appeared consistently in news articles mentioning Musk after his acquisition of Twitter, and San Francisco-area news outlet SFGate.com headlined its local coverage of the event, “Dave Chappelle brings out Twitter’s Elon Musk at Chase Center, chaos ensues.”
The reporting described an awkward scene as Chappelle’s surprise guest was introduced, beginning with a “stunned silence and then an avalanche of boos”:
“It sounds like some of the people you fired [from Twitter] are in the audience,” said Chappelle, who was in San Francisco co-headlining a seven-city tour with Chris Rock.
“Dave, what should I say?” asked Musk, who appeared thrown off by the response.
“Don’t say nothing,” replied Chappelle.
Musk took the advice, standing around awkwardly onstage for the next 5 to 10 minutes, occasionally trying to get a word in edgewise but either getting drowned out by boos or spoken over by Chappelle. Musk did try to join in the comedy fun, making a tech-y joke about how it felt like a “simulation” to be sharing a stage with Chappelle. It did about as well as you think it might.
Gizmodo painstakingly transcribed Musk’s introduction and its aftermath, reiterating the “what should I say” exchange excerpted above, and describing that Chappelle and Musk were visibly caught off guard by the crowd’s reaction:
As the laughs for Chappelle’s jokes would get drowned out by boos anytime Musk tried to talk, the comedian said that people could boo all they want, because Musk had given him a jetpack last Christmas.
But every single time Musk began to speak, the crowd started booing again, much to the frustration of Musk.
“Dave, what should I say?” Musk said, clearly desperate and getting embarrassed at the roar of booing.
“Don’t say nothing. It’ll only spoil the moment,” Chappelle said. “Do you hear that sound, Elon? That’s the sound of pending civil unrest. I can’t wait to see what store you decimate next, motherfucker. You shut the fuck up.”
Gizmodo observed that while it was not unexpected for a crowd in San Francisco to shun Musk, the fact that the audience paid to see Chappelle was a confounding factor. The story noted that there were “several” reasons that Musk was so roundly booed over the weekend:
Obviously, San Francisco is known as a liberal city and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for a Bay Area crowd to boo the wealthiest man in the world. But it’s not like this was a crowd of antifa supersoldiers or something. The people in attendance were there to see Dave Chapelle, a man who’s recently outed himself as an anti-trans bigot. Chris Rock was also a headliner, according to the local press.
Maybe the crowd was made up of the thousands of people Musk laid off from Twitter, as Chappelle joked. That certainly seems like a very real possibility, given the response. But honestly, Musk has been such an asshole for so many different reasons lately, it’s tough to narrow it down. Musk has also been directing his hostility at former employees, some of whom elected to stay on with the company after Musk’s initial purge, like Yoel Roth, the former head of Trust and Safety at Twitter.
Musk made an absolutely baseless suggestion that Roth was in favor of the sexualization of children, an apparent ploy to invent his own QAnon mythology that the billionaire is on a quest to personally end the exploitation of children around the world. In reality, Musk has gutted the team at Twitter that monitors for child exploitation material, according to Wired UK.
Early on the morning of December 12 2022, Musk seemed to address his reception alongside Chappelle indirectly:
A few hours later, Musk responded to a tweet about a “crowd full of boos,” claiming the response was only “10% boos”:
Video of the incident at Chappelle’s show was uploaded to Twitter by user account @CleoPat48937885; that footage rapidly disappeared, along with the account itself:
We located archived versions of @CleoPat48937885‘s timeline shortly before it was deleted, here and here. Twitter’s apparent removal of the account exacerbated backlash against Musk (and a post to r/videos prominently featured a YouTube mirror of the deleted clips):
Replies to the since-deleted tweet remained live, despite the absent “parent” tweet; text at the top read: “This Tweet is from an account that no longer exists.” A longer clip than the one shared to YouTube remained available on Twitter, with millions of views:
On December 11 2022, comedian Dave Chappelle brought media owner Elon Musk on stage in San Francisco during a stand-up performance. Several minutes of awkward silence from the stage followed, as Musk and Chappelle tried to recapture the audience. Video of the incident was uploaded to Twitter, and spread virally — before the poster’s account was removed from the platform for unknown reasons. In the early morning hours of December 12 2022, Musk lamented that the “woke mind virus is either defeated or nothing else matters.”