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Dave Chappelle's accused attacker pleads not guilty to misdemeanor charges

Dave Chappelle performing in Los Angeles, California in 2018.
Vivien Killilea
Getty Images for Imagine LA
Dave Chappelle performing in Los Angeles, California in 2018.

Updated May 6, 2022 at 5:46 PM ET

The man accused in the attack on comedian Dave Chappelle onstage at the Hollywood Bowl has pleaded not guilty to four misdemeanor charges.

Isaiah Lee is accused of battery, possession of a weapon with intent to assault, unauthorized access to the stage area during a performance and commission of an act that delays the event or interferes with the performer.

Lee remains jailed on $30,000 bail but the judge ordered him to stay 100 yards away from Chappelle if released.

When they arrested the 23-year old Lee, the LA Police Department filed a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, a felony. They allege he had been in the audience, jumped on stage with what turned out to be a replica handgun with a knife blade attached, and tackled Chappelle.

It's unclear whether Lee was brandishing the gun or had it with him in a bag, as The Los Angeles Times suggests.

Police released a photo of a fake gun they said had been taken from Isaiah Lee.
Police released a photo of a fake gun they said had been taken from Isaiah Lee.

The comedian and others were performing in the Netflix is a Joke Festival.

The District Attorney's Office said there was not enough evidence to pursue the felony charge and referred the case for the LA City Attorney's Office to consider charging Lee at the misdemeanor level.

The latest attack on an entertainer

The Hollywood Bowl attack was videotaped by audience members who sneaked cell phones into the venue. Ironically during Chappelle's 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 as he was joined on stage later by actor Jamie Foxx and by Chris Rock. "Was that Will Smith?" Rock asked, as the audience laughed.

Foxx appeared in a large hat. "Make some noise for Foxx. Whenever you're in trouble, Jamie Foxx will show up in a sheriff's hat," Chappelle said. "I thought that was part of the show," Foxx said.

"I grabbed the back of [the attacker's] head — his hair was spongey. Absorbent," Chappelle said. Foxx responded: "I just want to say, man, I've had an incredible time. This man is an absolute genius. We gotta make sure we protect him at all times, man."

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.

Guards chased the man down

Just after the incident, Chappelle and security guards could be seen chasing the man backstage. When Chappelle returned, he 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 before going to jail.

Chappelle's PR representative Carla Sims said the comedian is cooperating with the 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.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
Barbara Campbell