Atlanta comics, comedy club owners wary after man attacks Chappelle on stage

Hecklers are par for the course for stand-up comics. But getting attacked on stage is rare. Just a month after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage for a joke about his wife at the Oscars, a young man in the front row at a Netflix comedy festival Tuesday night actually attacked Dave Chappelle on stage.

Though Chappelle was unharmed and his security staff gave the armed man a beatdown that landed him in the hospital, what happened is not what any comedy club owner or stand-up comic relishes at all.

Roy Wood Jr., a stand-up comic and regular on “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central who used to co-host a radio show on Atlanta’s Kiss 104.1, Wednesday night played a fake security guard standing next to host Trevor Noah as he opened the show.

Combined ShapeCaption
On the May 4th episode of 'The Daily Show," Roy Wood Jr. plays a fake security guard for Trevor Noah the day after Dave Chappelle was attacked by an audience member at a comedy festival. COMEDY CENTRAL

Credit: COMEDY C

On the May 4th episode of 'The Daily Show," Roy Wood Jr. plays a fake security guard for Trevor Noah the day after Dave Chappelle was attacked by an audience member at a comedy festival. COMEDY CENTRAL

Credit: COMEDY C

Combined ShapeCaption
On the May 4th episode of 'The Daily Show," Roy Wood Jr. plays a fake security guard for Trevor Noah the day after Dave Chappelle was attacked by an audience member at a comedy festival. COMEDY CENTRAL

Credit: COMEDY C

Credit: COMEDY C

In a text to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday evening, Wood said it’s unclear what the man’s motivations were to jump the stage, or if mental illness was a factor.

“Will vs. Chris was an anomaly to me,” wrote Wood, who has been doing stand-up comedy since 1998. “Once or twice a year a comic gets rushed or fights a fan after a show, rare public news because they’re small-time comics, but the need to look over your shoulder has always been there.”

Atlanta-based veteran comic George Wallace joked with Ashleigh Banfield on WGN’s NewsNation Wednesday that he will now perform behind a steel cage or chicken wire. “It’s terrible what’s happening, but we have to keep laughing,” he said.

Angelo Sykes, co-owner of Uptown Comedy Corner, plans to hire off-duty cops and place security staff closer to the stage when the club reopens in a new location in Hapeville this weekend.

Marshall Chiles, who owns the Laughing Skull Lounge in Midtown, said what happened to Chappelle concerns him: “I just talked about it on stage and the audience was pensive in their reaction. Many of them shook their heads in disgust.” He said fortunately, over the years his audience has been respectful.

“My rule to deal with it all is, be funny and carry a big mic stand,” he said.

Gary Abdo, owner of the Atlanta Comedy Theater in Norcross, said he attended the first three days of the 11-day Netflix is a Joke Festival at various locations around Los Angeles. “I’m shocked the guy could get on the stage,” he said. “There will be changes to Dave’s security.”

At his own club, Abdo already uses off-duty cops for security as the norm. “Our police officers will be on higher alert than before,” he said. “I’m going to position them at the corners of the stages until things calm down.

Chris DiPetta, a manager for Buckhead’s Punchline Comedy Club, said he isn’t planning to make any changes. “We try to make people laugh,” he said. “No other agenda. There are people that are sick and looking for their 15 minutes of fame. Not everyone likes what they hear from our stage. We hope they just grin and bear it. It’s just jokes!”