Comedian Dave Chappelle disappointed voters and raised doubts about congressional upstart Kevin Powell’s campaign by blowing off the candidate’s highly promoted Wednesday night fundraiser.
The hugely popular comic was the headliner at the $75-and-up fundraiser, but Powell, who is aiming to unseat 13-term incumbent Ed Towns (D–Fort Greene) in the September primary, said Chappelle missed two flights in his effort to get to Manhattan’s hip-hop club, Eugene.
Earlier, Powell had urged the crowd to bear with him, suggesting that the comedian was “on his way.” But as the 700 campaign contributors grew restless and the vast press contingent started asking questions, Powell made his admission that Chappelle actually would not be appearing. He blamed travel mix-ups.
“We were on the phones non-stop with Dave’s management to get him here,” said a contrite Powell, 42, who promised that campaign donors would get into his next celebrity event for free.
Powell also claimed that comedian Chris Rock was actually backstage to show his support for the underdog’s hip-hop-themed campaign , but Rock never took the stage — “out of respect [for] other comedians,” Powell said.
Some attendees stood behind their candidate, despite the fiasco.
“I still support Powell,” said Melissa Horn. “Nothing that happened tonight is going to change that.”
But others saw Chappelle’s absence as sign that Powell might not be able to deliver.
“There is some disorganization in the campaign, and it raises questions about his ability to lead,” said Ashley Adams, a Harlem resident who will be moving into Powell’s district before the election. “It’s just disappointing — if you want to change the way that things are going, you do that by accomplishing what you say you will accomplish.”
But at least one attendee took advantage of the vacuum of entertainment created by Chappelle’s absence.
Stephen Witt, a reporter from the New York Post-owned Courier-Life chain, seized the microphone to try his hand at stand-up comedy during the delay.
“What do you think about 99-cent stores in Brooklyn?” asked Witt, who last made headlines for hugging Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner at a 2006 rally. “I was so broke recently that I had to put something on lay-away at a 99-cent store!” Later, he complained that some items at 99-cent stores are actually more than 99 cents.
“They should call it a two-ninety-nine-cent store,” Witt said, promptly exiting the stage bowing amid a crescendo of boos.
“I could have been funnier,” Witt later said, “but I wasn’t too bad.”
The crowd disagreed.
“It was just awkward, and I feel kind of embarrassed for him,” said one woman after Witt made his artistic contribution to the evening.
Powell, a former cast member on MTV’s “Real World” reality show and a hip-hop music journalist, is running for the second time against Towns.