Call it the Packed House that Twitter Built. Call it Chappelle's Silent Show. Call it "the greatest show that almost happened." Call it whatever you want.
Because the facts are these: At 10 minutes to 1 this morning, reclusive comedian Dave Chappelle appeared in Pioneer Courthouse Square,
carrying a microphone and a 10-inch amplifier. And 4,000 people were waiting for him.
"I don't know about you," Chappelle told the crowd an hour later, as he tried to make audible a plea to go home, "but I learned something tonight: Don't tell a secret in Portland."
At this late hour, it is difficult to think of a more impressive spontaneous downtown gathering in this city's history
since the Trail Blazers won the NBA title in 1977. Spurred by rumors on web sites and across Twitter, people began arriving in the Square at 9 pm in groups of two and three. By midnight, the supposed showtime for the stand-up comedian who suddenly quit his Comedy Central hit Chappelle's Show
in 2005, at least 3,000 people (and maybe as many as 6,000, depending on estimates at the scene) had packed the grandstands, surrounded the Noon Tunes stage and climbed onto the glass roofs of MAX stations.
The mood, by turns giddy and impatient, had by 12:30 am turned a little ugly. Banners were torn from the stage tent. Cups and bottles were thrown at the street kids who leapt onto the stage to smoke hashpipes. TV cameras left as the tent began to shake. People drifted away. "I don't think I'm ever gonna believe anything again," said a disappointed onlooker.
Then Chappelle showed.
He immediately confessed he had no idea what he had gotten himself into.
"I don't know how I can tell four people, and 4,000 people can show up,"
he said. "Next time I'm just going to think about this shit, and maybe 200 people will show up."
Chappelle, equipped only with a 10-inch battery powered amp for a sound system, seemed both amused and bewildered as he looked for a means to make his stand-up heard, while police officers kept a low profile at the north edge of the Square. "The Portland Police," he mused, "I've asked them not to arrest me... To do a show under these circumstances may be impossible. I'm gonna have to iron my shit out...I appreciate you, [but] I don't know how to make this work.
"I don't wanna waste this much good energy," he continued. "This has never happened to me in my entire career."
Volunteers from the crowd offered to set up an impromtpu speaker system, and most of the audience remained until 2 am, entertained by faintly audable wisecracks and a women who stripped down to her panties on the roof of Starbucks. At 2, Chappelle and his new team realized the power system had been turned off in the Square, and he called it a night ("In five minutes, you guys will be the audience for the greatest show that almost happened") slogging his way through a iPhone-flashing throng until he reached his vehicle back to the Heathman Hotel.
But not without one last joke: "I didn't know I was still famous. Now I know."
Photos! First, proof that Dave Chappelle was actually there (he's the blur on the left):
By 11:15 pm, crowds perched anywhere they could:
...including atop MAX shelters:
At 12:45 am, the Noon Tunes tent was shaking dangerously (as was my camera):
Finally a shot from WW culture intern Heather Morse, from another angle:
And that's all I've got tonight. Let's sleep on this, and maybe in the morning we'll know what it means.