At a little past 9 p.m. on Nov. 20, Dave Chappelle arrived unannounced at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. The audience, packed into the small red-brick room and just starting in on their two-drink minimum, was delighted.
Mr. Chappelle lit a cigarette. “Fuck the law-I’m a rebel!” he proclaimed after taking the stage. “I didn’t vote for Bloomberg. I didn’t ask for this shit! If anything happens, I’ll pay the ticket. I’m rich, bitch!” He was wearing a puffy khaki vest over a green and gray zip-up shirt. The stand-up comic and host of Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central was there to try out some new material, much of it topical.
First he brought up Pat Tillman, the 27-year-old N.F.L. star who turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army in the wake of Sept. 11. He was killed in Afghanistan during a possible friendly fire incident last April. “Pat Tillman will go down in history as the dumbest motherfucker that ever lived! It’s like, ‘Nigga, get on the Internet and do some research before you be making rash decisions like that!’” The crowd tittered, unsure of whether or not to laugh. “And a hush falls over the crowd,” Mr. Chappelle said with a smile.
A Muslim and an outspoken critic of the war (although he rarely discusses his religious beliefs), Mr. Chappelle went on to list a few of the latest statistics from Iraq. “What’s going on in Falluja is pretty upsetting,” he said, his face going serious. “That’s why I watch Fox News-because we’re winning on that motherfucker!” The crowd erupted.
He said he didn’t trust the President. “George W. Bush has a box on his back, and he tells us it’s nothing. Nothing? Just say it’s a box of Newports or something, motherfucker, but nothing?
“I had more jokes, but I can’t remember,” he said, fishing a blue notebook out of his jeans pocket. “These may not be funny.
“Nobody likes AIDS more than Magic Johnson. AIDS has done more for Magic Johnson than basketball ever did! He’s never looked better! Hell, I’ll take some AIDS!”
Many of the women in the audience frowned in disapproval, their glossy lips pressed in a firm line. Mr. Chappelle took a sip from a white mug.
“I’m a conspiracy theorist,” he continued, “and I think AIDS is a conspiracy. I mean, something comes along out of nowhere and who does it kill? Niggas, fags and junkies! How convenient! And whoever came up with that shit was evil and clever. After all, where did they hide the AIDS? In the pussy!”
The audience laughed loudly, but there were still some frowns, so Mr. Chappelle moved on to a funnier S.T.D.
“Did you know that one out of five people have herpes? One out of five of us have ‘the herp’! Ain’t that some shit! You know what that means?” He began pointing at people in the audience. “One, two, three, four, HERPES!” Everyone laughed.
Mr. Chappelle tried another. “Nothing does more than penises to fight racial discrimination.” He smiled a knowing grin. “My penis is a straight-up humanitarian! My penis actually gave a speech the other day called ‘I Have a Dream.’” He launched into Dr. King’s stilted cadence: “‘I have a dream … that one day … black women … white women … Indian women … will all be bouncing on top of me …. ‘” The comic laughed along with everyone else and, as though greatly amusing himself, he collapsed against the red brick wall behind him in hysterics.
He flipped through his notebook some more. “That shit ain’t funny,” he said, turning a page.
A little while later, Mr. Chappelle told a joke that didn’t go over very well. He looked out at the audience and, in an attempt at recovery, he pointed at a woman:
“Herpes!” he shouted. That one got a laugh.
As Mr. Chappelle left the stage, he thanked the audience and returned his notebook to his jeans pocket. Then he galloped up the stairs and out into the rain, leaving the audience and six comics behind.
Sir Bob’s Tart Tongue
At the Council on Foreign Relations on Nov. 19, in a wood-paneled conference room bedecked with oil paintings of crusty grand strategists, a slight, aging rock star stood before a microphone. His hair was long, gray and unkempt. He wore a pinstriped charcoal suit, sneakers and a day’s worth of stubble. He appeared to be chewing gum. His name was Bob Geldof. Once upon a time, he saved the world.
Mr. Geldof was answering the inevitable question about the intermingling of politics and celebrity. “I think it’s fucking pathetic that some twats who get up onstage and play to 80,000 people can help create policy,” he said. His audience twittered. The council hosts its share of colorful characters-Joe Biden, Donald Rumsfeld, Olusegun Obasanjo-but it’s safe to say that the word “twat” doesn’t get thrown around often at the organization’s decorous 68th Street headquarters. Unperturbed, Mr. Geldof kept rolling merrily along in his rough Irish brogue. “Africans can’t help themselves, because they’re disempowered by poverty,” he said. “Nobody’s arguing about this, so why don’t we just fucking do it?”
Mr. Geldof is a man known for his strident opinions (“the world’s most effective troublemaker,” The Observer of London once called him) and for his tart tongue. This is a songwriter who is most famous not for any line he sang, but for one he reputedly growled into a live television camera: “Give us your fucking money!” One and a half billion people were watching. The year was 1985. The event was Live Aid, the bicontinental concert that Mr. Geldof organized to ease the suffering of the starving Ethiopians. David Bowie, Queen and Paul McCartney played. And people did give Mr. Geldof their money. Live Aid raised more than $100 million and is credited with saving tens of thousands of lives. Overnight, Mr. Geldof, the lead singer of the middling Dublin band the Boomtown Rats, was transformed into Sir Bob, the profane saint on the short list for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Last week, Mr. Geldof was visiting the council on behalf of the Commission for Africa, a British governmental advisory body to which he was appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair. But he had a bit of music business to attend to as well: He was hawking a new DVD box set of the Live Aid concert, which is being released in honor of the 20th anniversary of the event, and was hyping a new recording of his 1984 hit single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (All proceeds will go toward antipoverty programs in Africa.) “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was originally recorded by a group of the biggest British pop stars of the mid-80′s-Boy George, Simon LeBon, Sting, Bono-under the name Band Aid, selling some 12 million copies and inspiring the even bigger American hit, “We Are the World.” This year’s version of Band Aid includes Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Dido and, once again, the ageless Bono, himself no slacker when it comes to Third World do-gooding.
“We’re both Irish,” Mr. Geldof said of Bono. “So we know how to talk. We bore people to death.” But if the U2 frontman has cultivated a genteel public image, touring Africa with a Republican Treasury Secretary and reducing Jesse Helms to tears, Mr. Geldof remains unapologetically choleric. “My vision of the 21st century is of people dying on our [television] screens forever, and it’s intolerable,” he said, citing the continuing suffering in Sudan as an example. Mr. Geldof laid much of the blame on unfair trade policies that force developing nations to compete on uneven economic ground with Europe and America. Citing a European Union subsidy for dairy farmers, he asked, “Are we seriously suggesting that a fucking cow is worth more than a human being?
“It’s absolute madness,” he continued. “I’m a pop singer. If I can see it, it’s bonkers.”
For the Love of Money
When The Transom called the Learning Annex to sign up for a seminar titled “How to Marry Rich,” the receptionist said: “There are only five spaces left in the class! My girlfriend is trying to get me to go,” she added with a giggle, as if embarrassed. And who wouldn’t be? Well, not the 75 women who showed up for the course on the night of Thursday, Nov. 18. Gathered under the florescent lighting of a shabby room in a Hell’s Kitchen high-rise was every man’s worst nightmare: a group of materialistic, high-maintenance women ready for marriage.
Sitting side by side on green park benches, the audience was decidedly diverse. There were twentysomething women leaning forward eagerly, thongs sticking up from the back of their Girbaud jeans. There were women in their late 50′s, perched primly in nice suits, fresh off the Metro North from Darien, Conn.
“They might call you the trophy, but you’re the one who gets the prize!” Stephanie Adams, the lecturer, announced to the crowd. She then instructed the women on which hunting grounds were the best bets: “Nightclubs are just not the way to meet someone!” Instead, she suggested that the manhunters hit up charity events, gallery openings, corporate functions, and expensive restaurants and bars near investment banks. “Those types of men are always keeping their eyes open for new investments!” she chirped.
“Men go to those places-it weeds out certain types of people,” she continued.
Wealthy people rarely go to “regular” clubs, but instead prefer to bounce around to the “latest places,” according to Ms. Adams. “Wealthy people did not get rich by being stupid. They will eventually realize that they are being hunted and migrate to new territory. But always head home around 11 p.m., because you’ll find less quality people out after midnight.”
Next, Ms. Adams advised the audience that, when fraternizing with the rich, dress as the rich do. “But what if we can’t afford nice clothing?” a woman asked.
“Sometimes you may have to set aside money and invest in one nice outfit that you can wear to all of these places,” Ms. Adams answered. The Transom recalled an old Simpsons episode where Marge finds a Chanel suit at a thrift store and, while wearing it, is invited to join a country club. The problem is that the only appropriate attire she owns is the suit, so every time she goes to the club, she has to alter it with scissors and a sewing machine to make it look like a new outfit. Eventually, all that remains could pass for a Chanel scarf.
About a half-hour into the seminar, a man wearing sunglasses raised his hand and stood up. “I think I’m in the wrong place. I’m supposed to be in the seminar titled ‘How to Meet and Pick Up Girls Any Time, Anywhere.’ As he edged his way out of the room, a woman called out, “Hey! Are you rich?”
Somewhere, Gloria Steinem just took two steps back.
Ms. Adams is an interesting bird. Claiming to be a direct descendant of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, she’s a mix of West Indian, Cherokee Indian, English, Welsh, Italian and Egyptian. After high school, she signed with the Wilhelmina and Elite modeling agencies, posed in Playboy as Miss November 1992, and is now an “avid investor” in Fortune 500 companies. She’s written seven books on spirituality and calls herself a “sorceress.”
According to the course description, Ms. Adams “has dated some of the wealthiest and most famous men in the world.”
“I went out with Robert De Niro, and that didn’t work out,” Ms. Adams confessed later over the phone. “We’re both Leos, so we clashed big time. Also, I don’t believe in sleeping with someone because they’re famous, and that was a big argument we had. I guess he expects all women to fall straight into bed and sleep with him, and that’s just not who I am.”
She was also engaged to John Casablancas, the founder of the Elite Modeling Agency. The pair dated for over two years before Ms. Adams dumped him. “It was very public when I dated John Casablancas. He’d wanted to marry me, but I’m not like most women in that I really didn’t want to get married.”
She made an exception when she met her ex-husband, who, according to the course description, “is a well-known Italian Investment Banker” (capitalization not ours).
“I really did marry for love,” Ms. Adams insisted. “Honestly-I didn’t care about meeting someone successful. I already had seven figures in the bank, so I didn’t need my husband’s seven figures. Women should find someone they’re really happy with, not just seek out men for their bank account. And if you’re not attracted to a man, the marriage is not going to work out.” But isn’t that the point?
As if on cue, a Latina woman with a banana clip in her hair brought up the subject of prenuptial agreements.
“I’m not a fan of those,” Ms. Adams replied, somewhat hilariously: She and her ex-husband didn’t sign a prenuptial agreement, and the notoriously aggressive lawyer Raoul Felder was her divorce attorney.
During the 15-minute intermission, the mirrored wall reflected the audience. A number of people left, among them a 26-year-old pretty blond Russian named Elsa. “She doesn’t tell us specifically where to meet these guys. She speaks in generalities,” she complained. Elsa was right: Every time someone raised her hand and asked for specific examples, Ms. Adams said there wasn’t enough time to get into it, but that she’d gladly meet with them for a private (read: paid) consultation.
An Asian girl named Jill stuck it out and started spooning up some Fruit on the Bottom yogurt. A 32-year-old scientist and ’02 grad from the Yale School of Arts and Sciences, she said that while her field is dominated by men, the salaries were not that high. She said that most of what Ms. Adams was saying was common sense.
Some highlights included:
“Do not dress to the nines and troll hotels unless you want to be mistaken for a high-class prostitute.”
“Give your man a little gift now and then to show him you’re not selfish.”
“Don’t lie and say that you’re an heiress or a princess in order to impress him.”
“People who run companies are used to being in charge all the time, so outside of the office they like it if you take charge and start running things.”
And The Transom’s personal favorite: “Do not act like a floozy.” (Thank goodness she said something!)
Later, we asked Ms. Adams if she ever thought she would marry again. “Well, that would be difficult,” she explained, “now that I’m a lesbian.”
On the evening of Nov. 17, Billy Joel was drinking red wine and squiring his 23-year-old bride, Kate Lee, around the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda at the American Museum of Natural History. She was swathed in a black Dolce and Gabbana gown, and he was folded into a black Ralph Lauren suit. We asked Mr. Joel how married life was treating him, but were interrupted by a tray of glass goblets crashing to the floor. “Much better than that!” he laughed, gesturing to the broken shards. “My new wife is terrific! I’m feathering my nest and enjoying being married. I’m just a guy who’s happy to be married. It’s a rarity in these times.”
He said that he was there as a tribute to his grandfather, Karl Amson Joel, an amateur paleontologist who had an exhibit at the museum that was shown for 10 to 15 years throughout the 40′s and 50′s. “I just love the damn architecture of the place! Look at that!” he said, gesturing to the enormous columns flanking the revolving doors at the museum’s entrance. “They’re Corinthian columns. Not Doric, not Ionic-Corinthian. People that come here always ask”-here he adopted a upper-crust, highfalutin accent-”‘What kind of column is that?’ It’s a test everybody gives each other.
“Everything in New York used to look like this! Can you imagine that?” Mr. Joel continued, taking a swipe at Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for a new football stadium, arguably the city’s most divisive urban-planning issue in 20 years. “The way the city spent money back then wasn’t on a football stadium, but on something that was lasting. I mean, I hope I’m not putting myself in a political-football situation here, but look at this place. It’s absolutely gorgeous! If I don’t give a damn about football, I can come to the Museum of Natural History.”
Others that came to the Museum Ball to raise money for the AMNH’s educational and scientific programs included Sarah Jessica Parker, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, mannequin-about-town Karolina Kurkova and TeenVogue editor Amy Astley. Under the enormous, newly refurbished whale and the undulating, digital blue sky of the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, the group merrily noshed on braised beef short ribs, whipped parsnips and potatoes, and desserts inspired by museum exhibits.
Mr. Joel scampered off to get another glass of red wine. Once he returned, The Transom asked him the question that was on everybody’s mind: Did he “pour one out” for recently deceased rapper Old Dirty Bastard? “Well, I tell you, I was not shocked by his death. I have a feeling that a lot of these recording contracts are predicated on the fact that after three years, you have to either die or be killed! I’m not celebrating anybody’s death, but a lot of these guys do die too early, and too young-but they do sell a lot of records, and that’s good for the music business.” He paused. “Let me ask you this: Aside from having a hit record, what’s the sexiest thing in entertainment?”
Uh, we give up.
The Transom Also Hears That ….
Yes, that was Don King who came to the rescue at Jean-Georges’ V Steakhouse and the Stone Rose at Time Warner Center on Nov. 22. The woolly-haired boxing promoter turned human metal detector when Rita Cosby dropped her $500,000 diamond brooch in front of guests Henry Kissinger, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Bolton, Jocelyn Wildenstein, Evander Holyfield and Steve Forbes at the Wild Wild West Celebrity Gala and Poker Night, the site of a 40th-birthday party for Fox News’ Ms. Cosby. Mr. King scooped up the jewel and returned it to the birthday gal. Later, perhaps as a gesture of gratitude, Harry Winston heir Richard Winston and his wife, Susan, lassoed Mr. King to play at their table.