The Reasons Dave Chappelle Has A No-Phone Policy at His Comedy Shows: ‘Not An Empowering Feeling As A Comedian'

 Dave Chappelle Netflix stand-up comedy.
Credit: Netflix

When Dave Chappelle isn’t doing massive Netflix specials or selling out small comedy clubs in the United States, he is taking his comedy voice elsewhere. The controversial comedian recently did shows in Nairobi, Kenya, at the Punchline Comedy Club alongside Kenyan acts. This is a unique choice, as oftentimes comedy can be culturally specific. This truly shows Chappelle’s reach as a comedian, and how his sense of humor translates worldwide. However, he had a very notable stipulation when it came to his performance: no cell phones.

A report by the Kenyan Times (via MSN) published some of the restrictions that would take place at Chappelle’s shows in Nairobi, including his restriction of cell phone use during his set. He also banned any recording devices including cameras and smartwatches at the venue. The devices would be confiscated at the beginning of his show and returned to audience members after his performance. The comedian has been doing this for a while, and explained his reasoning during a Jimmy Kimmel Live! interview in 2017. He said:

It became a thing where I’d walk on stage and see cell phones, so I knew that anything I said in the room, I was saying to everybody, whether they were in the room or not. Which is not an empowering feeling as a comedian. It’s like fight club rules apply, what I’m saying in the room, I’d rather just keep in the room.

This makes a lot of sense, especially for a comedian like Dave Chappelle. His comedy has become incredibly controversial in recent years, and his specials have sparked outrage amongst the LGBTQ+ community for some of his material. He was even attacked on stage in 2022 for one of his jokes.

When audiences decide to attend a Chappelle show, it is likely because they think he is funny despite the controversy. He would probably rather work through jokes with an audience that has already signed off on his sense of humor, rather than spark outrage with a viral joke filmed from one of his shows.

Chappelle also explained to Jimmy Kimmel that the internet and viral clips from sets is actually harmful to comedy in general, saying it ruins the surprise and timing that makes stand-up jokes work. He said:

The other thing is comedians need the element of surprise so if someone sees a joke I’m doing before I get to their city, then I got to do all new jokes and I couldn’t write fast enough.

No comedian wants to be telling an audience jokes that they’ve already heard before, as it likely will diminish the intended effect.

Chappelle isn’t alone in this thought process. Comedians like John Mulaney and Chris Rock have also banned the use of cell phones during their touring shows, only allowing filming when it is time to record a much-watch comedy special or album. Not only does it diminish the likelihood of a joke going viral before a comedian is ready to make a special, but it also forces the audience to pay attention to what is in front of them, something rare in the digital landscape.

As more comedians adopt a cell phone policy, maybe this is just the beginning for live performances. I doubt cell phones at concerts will ever go away, but it would be unsurprising if movie theaters, film festivals, or other performance-related showcases start becoming cellphone-free spaces. Nobody wants a movie spoiled, but when it comes to comedy, this policy is important because a comedian needs space to fail in front of an audience to improve their craft.

Fans of Dave Chappelle can see his latest comedy special The Dreamer now with a Netflix subscription, along with his other popular specials. Comedy fans should also check out our feature on some of the funniest stand-up specials streaming on the platform now for more from their favorite comics.