Los Angeles police have arrested the man who attacked comedian Dave Chappelle onstage during the “Netflix is a Joke” Festival. 23-year-old Isaiah Lee was charged with assault with a deadly weapon after the LAPD allege he jumped on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, pointed a replica handgun with a knife blade attached, and tackled Chappelle. Police are still investigating a possible motive.
The attack was videotaped by audience members who snuck cell phones to the venue. One eye witness told NPR that ironically during his standup routine before the incident, the comedian had talked about his beefed-up security. Others noted that Chappelle had spoken about the recent Oscars incident in which Best Actor winner Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock over a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences investigated the incident and banned Smith from all its events, virtually or in person, for 10 years.
Chappelle reportedly said both Smith’s and Rock’s actions had resonated with him.
Some audience members also posted video of Chappelle joined on stage later by actor Jamie Foxx and by comedian Chris Rock, another festival performer. “Was that Will Smith?” Rock asked, as the audience laughed.
Chappelle appeared unharmed, and reportedly joked that his attacker “Was a trans man.” Earlier in the set, he said he felt attacked by transgender people who criticized his past material as transphobic. For example, in his Netflix special “The Closer” last October, Chappelle joked about trans women and their genitalia.
An eyewitness told NPR that just after the incident, she saw Chappelle and security guards chase the man backstage. When he returned, he reportedly called his assailant “clumsy” and said, “I’ve been doing this 35 years. I just stomped a [n-word] backstage — always wanted to do that.”
The LAPD did not give many details about the suspect; they say Lee was injured while security guards detained him. He was seen leaving the Hollywood Bowl on a stretcher, with apparent injuries, and being booed by Chappelle fans. He was treated medically and remains behind bars at the Hollywood jail with a $30,000 bail bond.
Chappelle’s PR representative Carla Sims said the comedian is cooperating with the active police investigation. “Dave Chapelle celebrated four nights of comedy and music during the festival, tying with Monty Python for the most headlined shows by any comedian at the Hollywood Bowl,” Sims said in a statement sent to NPR. “He refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.”
Sims added, “As unfortunate and unsettling as the incident was, Chappelle went on with the show. Jamie Foxx and Chris Rock helped calm the crowd with humor before Chappelle introduced the last and featured musical guests for the evening, hip-hop artists Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli, a.k.a. Black Star.”
After the incident, Netflix sent a statement to NPR that read, “We care deeply about the safety of creators and we strongly defend the right of stand-up comedians to perform on stage without fear of violence.”
This is not the first incident in Hollywood since the “slap heard ’round the world” at the Academy Awards. In March, a man reportedly pulled out a gun at a Hollywood comedy club attended by former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. In that case, the club patron reportedly said it was a joke, not a threat, and told Tyson he was a fan. The ex-boxer is said to have responded to him with a handshake and a hug.
NPR’s Maquita Peters contributed to this story.
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