Attendees who planned to see Dave Chappelle at Minneapolis’ iconic First Avenue will have to reroute to Varsity Theater tonight. On Wednesday evening, the venue originally scheduled to host the comedian announced it would be canceling the show hours before set time.
Apologizing to their staff, artists, and the community, organizers at First Avenue said in a statement that they had to “hold ourselves to the highest standards.”
“We are not just a black box with people in it, and we understand that First Ave is not just a room, but meaningful beyond our walls,” the venue wrote. “The First Avenue team and you have worked hard to make our venues the safest spaces in the country, and we will continue with that mission.”
Those planning to attend the show were set to receive an email with information about the comedy event’s new venue, Varsity Theater, two and a half miles away.
We hear you. Tonight’s show has been cancelled at First Avenue and is moving to the Varsity Theater. See our full statement for more. pic.twitter.com/tkf7rz0cc7
— First Avenue (@FirstAvenue) July 20, 2022
“We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have,” the venue wrote. “We know there are some who will not agree with this decision; you are welcome to send feedback.”
The cancelation and venue change comes as activists organized a protest outside of the venue, which is now being moved to Varsity Theater. Local reporter Grace Birnstengel with MPR News said she had spoken with “upset staffers” at the venue Tuesday, some of whom were planning to call out sick the night of the show. A rep for First Avenue said they could not confirm whether staff had called out of work to protest the show.
Reps for First Avenue and Chappelle did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s requests for comment.
Chappelle has long faced backlash for his transphobic jokes, especially those featured in an October stand-up special, titled The Closer. Chappelle called himself a TERF, and said Caitlyn Jenner winning a “Woman of the Year” prize was like BET giving Eminem a “N— of the Year” prize.
The Netflix special led to employees at the streaming service staging a walkout, demanding Netflix acknowledge the detrimental effect material like Chappelle’s can have on the LGBTQ community while also pushing the service to release more LGBTQ content.
At the time, Chappelle appeared to relish the controversy. A statement from the comedian’s rep said he “stands by his art” but was ostensibly open to discussing the issues with the special. Probably the closest thing to that kind of conversation took place about a month later during a contentious Q&A session with students at Chappelle’s former high school in D.C. The school was planning on naming its theater after the comedian, and as students expressed their concerns about the decision in light of his jokes, Chappelle responded by calling them “immature.”
This past June, Chappelle returned to the high school to address students again as the theater was officially christened the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression. “Rather than give this theater my name, I would like to give these students my message,” Chappelle said in a speech that is now serving as his latest Netflix release, What’s In a Name?