As consumers, we expect a lot from the artists we admire and pay money to see perform. We want to hear the songs we love, the familiar jokes that still make us laugh. The artists on stage, however, have to balance what their audience wants with their own artistic aims — Apple, for example, might choose not to perform “Paper Bag” in favor of a new song; Chappelle probably doesn’t want to rehash material from his Comedy Central series seven years after the show ended. It’s a bit unfair, then, to suggest that an artist speaking up and responding to a belligerent or unappreciative or unreasonably demanding crowd as “having a public meltdown.” The fact that Fiona Apple is a woman and Dave Chappelle is an African-American man, and thus face even more restrictive expectations to simply be quiet and perform for us, adds another layer of discomfort to the media’s portrayal of their dissatisfaction with their disrespectful audiences.
Chappelle hasn’t made any statements following the Hartford show, although Ebony published a fantastic piece by Lesli-Ann Lewis arguing that the comedian didn’t have a meltdown at all, but was responding to a crowd of drunk, belligerent, and mostly white guys. Apple, on the other hand, released a statement (well, sort of — she emailed Questlove, who sent the message to Okayplayer) in which she blasted the music writers who reported that she did not finish her set. “They all miss the fact that there is a difference between the back-of-the-room-chatter that is simply annoying, and the operatic drunken blather, or the heckling that is really just INTERRUPTING that makes it impossible for us to do our jobs.” She has a point: if we want people to perform for us, we have to give them the chance. We can’t expect to block them from effectively doing their work and then go on to trash them for not meeting our standards.