Musk at a 2022 Halloween party.
Taylor Hill/Getty Images
- In 2015, Elon Musk got applause for Tesla. In 2022, he gets booed for appearing on stage.
- Being booed at a Dave Chappelle show capped a long weekend of Elon tweeting inflammatory things.
- His tweets, and the strong reaction from the crowd, highlight just how divisive Musk has become.
In 2015, Elon Musk appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. After Colbert called Musk “the real Tony Stark,” and Musk got a round of applause for the Tesla, Colbert asked Musk whether he was “sincerely trying to save the world.”
Musk demurred, saying he was trying to “do useful things.”
“You’re trying to do useful things,” Colbert said, “and you’re a billionaire. That seems a little like either superhero or supervillain. You have to pick one.”
Back then, Musk’s trajectory seemed to be headed towards the former: Tesla had already made great strides towards making electric cars cool, and SpaceX was bringing a sense of excitement and possibility back to the space race.
Fast forward seven years, and Musk received an altogether different reception at another comedy legend’s show.
On Sunday night, Elon made a surprise appearance at a Dave Chappelle show at San Francisco’s Chase Center. “Make some noise for the richest man in the world,” Chapelle said. Musk was quickly showered with boos from the estimated 18,000 people in attendance.
“You weren’t expecting this, were you?” Musk asked Chapelle as the boos continued.
“It sounds like some of those people you fired are in the audience,” Chapelle joked, referring to the deep, sweeping job cuts at Twitter over the month or so since Musk took control of the company.
—Chris Stokel-Walker ~ @email@example.com (@stokel) December 12, 2022
Twitter and Elon’s ‘dark comedy’
And it’s hard to imagine any crowd in San Francisco in 2022 reacting with anything but boos when being asked to “make some noise for the richest man in the world.”
Still, the footage is difficult to watch. Musk’s discomfort on stage create the odd sensation of feeling sorry for the world’s richest man.
The booing came at the end of a weekend that saw Musk take a lot of flack, even by recent standards: On Saturday, he was tweeting insinuations that Yoel Roth, his former head of Twitter’s Trust & Safety division, approved of “children being able to access adult Internet services in his PhD thesis.” It was an extremely bad-faith reading of Roth’s 2016 dissertation and one that quickly made Roth the target of death threats.
Then, on Sunday, Musk posted: “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.” It’s a groaner designed to troll transgender people, reiterate his long-running opposition to anti-COVID measures like the lockdowns of 2020, and give red meat to the “anti-woke” users Musk seems to see as his true fan base. (Dave Chapelle, of course, also has a history of antagonizing the transgender community.)
After his tweet got 1 million likes, he followed it up with another post: “Truth resonates …”
When one person with under 700 followers replied with “So does a crowd full of boos,” Musk was quick to react on Twitter, blaming the booing on angering “SF’s unhinged leftists.”
—Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 12, 2022
It’s dangerous to extrapolate the overall public sentiment towards Musk from a single comedy crowd at one event in San Francisco. Musk still has plenty of fans and admirers, including and especially at the highest levels of power in Silicon Valley. And yet, it remains an extraordinary turn of events given that Tesla’s cars are one of San Francisco’s most ubiqiuitous status symbols — making it likely that some significant percentage of the audience in attendance had, in not-so-distant memory, contributed directly to Musk’s wealth and power.
On that subject, the shifting perceptions around Musk may be cause for alarm at Tesla. California is one of Tesla’s largest and historically strongest markets, with electric vehicles accounting for almost 18% of new car sales in the state, per official data. The company was founded and originally headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, too. As Musk becomes less of a hometown hero, that could in turn alienate some of Tesla’s biggest and most dedicated customers.
On November 10, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote: “In what has been a dark comedy show with Twitter, Musk has essentially tarnished the Tesla story/stock and is starting to potentially impact the Tesla brand with this ongoing Twitter train wreck disaster.
Ives announced that Wedbush was taking Tesla off Wedbush’s “Best Ideas” list. “From selling Tesla stock again and again, to the PR nightmare that Twitter has become, cutting 50% of employees and then needing to bring some back, Musk’s attention focus from Tesla to Twitter, and ultimately the fear that this Twitter lightening rod of controversy on a daily (almost hourly) basis starts to negatively change the Tesla brand globally,” Ives wrote.
As Ives put it: “Tesla is Musk.” And it’s less clear by the day what, exactly, Elon Musk is.