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Dave Chappelle opened for Chris Rock and Kevin Hart during a surprise appearance at their “Only Headliners Allowed” tour stop at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday night, days after his own show was canceled in Minnesota following community backlash.
The 48-year-old comedian joined his friends on stage for what Hart called “the best moment of my career” as Chappelle was reportedly greeted by a roaring applause, and walked out to the Radiohead song, “Karma Police.”
“Had to sneak my way in here,” Chappelle told the audience, via TMZ, adding, “despite what you may have read about in the news, I’m OK, and I appreciate the support.”
Less than one week ago, the comic faced scrutiny once again for booking a gig at the famed First Avenue in Minneapolis, only for the venue to cancel the show hours before Chappelle took the stage due to public ressistance from the transphobic jokes he made in his Netflix special, “The Closer.”
Dave Chappelle made a surprise appearance on stage Saturday night in New York City as he opened the show for Chris Rock and Kevin Hart at Madison Square Garden in New York City after being canceled in Minnesota days before. (Getty Images)
“I can’t even explain it…I can’t find the words…Just know that last night was the true definition of a ‘EPIC NIGHT,’” Hart confessed on Twitter while sharing a few images from the packed performance in Midtown Manhattan.
“I love my brothers more than words can explain. What we did to the Garden will never be done again….We made history last night!!!!!!!!”
Ticket holders were equally as excited to see their favorite legends on stage, and took to Twitter with high praises for the performances.
“Chris Rock, Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle on the same stage at MSG was nothing short of legendary. Honored to have witnessed,” @Callistusss wrote.
Another fan was elated to witness “comedic history” and compared watching the larger-than-life comedians perform to seeing the late Lakers great “Kobe drop 80.” Bryant scored 81 points — his highest scoring game — against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“Anyone who saw Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Kevin Hart last night at MSG is so wildly lucky that it’s kind of hard to fathom,” Ben Gilbert tweeted. “That’s like going to see a Kendrick and J. Cole show and the surprise opener is Drake.”
One supporter said the show “was epic!!! #MSG…the opening comic was….Dave Chappelle you can’t be serious!! OMG so many laughs…Even better than you can have ever thought! Thank You.. for an absolutely EPIC event.”
Chappelle inadvertently made waves earlier in the week after he was originally scheduled to perform on Wednesday at First Avenue, but the show was moved to a smaller stage three miles away at Varsity Theater following heated protests over his sixth special with Netflix, which was released in October. His appearance had been announced on Monday, and tickets to the performance sold out in minutes.
Comedian Flame Monroe, who is transgender, told Fox News Digital that freedom of speech is paramount when it comes to protecting the “safest place” on Earth — the stage.
“When I grow up, I want to be just like him, because guess what, the show must go on,” Monroe said. “I don’t want to be censored as a comedian. I say some ridiculous things on stage, that’s hilarious, that may make you think, but what it also does is teaches you that I’m a human being.”
Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada told Fox News Digital that the “comic stage is their sanctuary. We have to protect the First Amendment. We can’t dilute it. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves.”
Comedian Natalie Cuomo told Fox News Digital that “nobody should be censored” and people should be able to speak freely, especially once they have already been booked to perform.
“The venue already knew,” she said. “It’s not like he released something new after they booked him. This was already on Netflix. This was already accessible to the public. And canceling a show last-minute like that is pretty unacceptable to me.”
Protestors stood outside of First Avenue venue alongside Dave Chappelle show ticketholders before the performance was canceled and moved to another venue following backlash on Wednesday night. (John Reinan/Star Tribune)
Dave Chappelle was supported by the comedy community after he was canceled by a local Minnesota venue earlier this week. He was pictured at a theatre dedication ceremony at his alma mater in June. (Brian Stukes)
Cuomo added: “It empowers me more to say what I believe, because it makes me want to go further with how I feel. I don’t think it’s okay to limit what people say. I think there needs to always be a space for whatever your beliefs are. Nobody should be censored. I don’t think Dave Chappelle was ever encouraging violence in any capacity, and for anyone to say that is a gross exaggeration.”
With artistic freedom on the line, Dani Zoldan, the owner of Sand Up New York, insisted people need to be able to laugh whenever and however they choose to do so.
“People should lighten up and be whoever you want. Be straight, gay, trans, non-binary. I wish everyone the best,” he said. “Everyone should be who they want to be. At the same time, you can’t tell people what they can and can’t say. If you don’t like what someone says, don’t support them. That said, move on with your life. Worry about yourself.”
In “The Closer,” Chappelle discussed controversies surrounding gender identity and has continued to defend his right to artistic freedom despite heavy backlash.
A new Netflix comedy special from Chappelle was released under the radar earlier this month, focusing on a speech he gave at his alma mater after declining their offer to rename a theater after him.
His lecture at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., in November was the primary focus of the show, “What’s in a Name,” where he recalled how the students reacted to the offensive jokes made in “The Closer” and how he had to defend his voice not only for his sake, but also for future generations to be able to express their own views.
Fox News’ Larry Fink contributed to this report.
Tracy Wright is an entertainment writer for Fox News Digital. Send story tips to email@example.com.