On June 10, comedian Dave Chappelle sat down with the Late Show’s David Letterman, marking his most broadcasted appearance in years. This, Dave Chappelle’s first public, late-night appearance in nearly 6 years, revives memories of the comic’s rise to fame and invites more speculation about what is next for the entertainer. When asked the inevitable question, “Why quit Chappelle’s Show at the height of its popularity?,” the comedian joked that he had never quit, but was merely seven years late making it in to work. Looking very fit and promoting his tour to the iconic Radio City Music Hall later this month, he also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon June 13.
Chappelle granted defunct Late Night show host Conan O’Brien a sit-down in 2008; this was his last substantial television interview of note. While Chappelle has made several impromptu appearances at comedy clubs around the country over the last decade, his sporadic and discreetly announced appearances have become something of a cult phenomenon among fans. Those who were able to catch the comic during his reclusive years since the Chappelle’s Show‘s termination had their work cut out for them. Attending most engagements in the past ten years has involved following social media closely and keeping a flexible schedule. Chappelle’s fans have been prepared to drop everything for a chance to catch a glimpse of the practically monastic entertainer.
Dave Chappelle made headlines when he left his extremely popular television series, Chappelle’s Show, in 2005. The comedian’s sudden cancellation of his hit sketch comedy program baffled fans, and gave new meaning to the expression “going out on top.” The series only aired 2 1/2 seasons before the performer walked away, citing elusive and vague reasons for the departure, that have varied over time. When he left his Comedy Network program during the show’s third season, Chappelle reportedly also walked away from a $50 million dollar contract. After a two-week, solo pilgrimage to Africa immediately following his departure from the show, the artist returned to Ohio, where he resides with his wife and three children.
The comedian has remained in the spotlight in small ways since his separation from television. He set a stand-up endurance record at the Sunset Strip’s Laugh Factory during April 2007, and again in December of that same year, with a record-breaking performance time of six hours and 12 minutes. In 2008, he appeared on a special 200th episode edition of Inside the Actor’s Studio, interviewing host James Lipton. Chappelle made a similar guest appearance on the show’s 250th episode in 2013. Also in 2013, the musical artist Prince chose the quipster’s famous impersonation of the artist as his cover art on the single Breakfast Can Wait.
Despite a minimal number of public appearances since 2005, several scholarly works have been published that focus on Chappelle. In 2013, the comic returned to stand-up by way of the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival, sponsored by Funny or Die. His habitual appearances over the past decade have kept fans hopeful that a return to the spotlight is imminent.
Music is big part of the comedian’s life. In his interview with Letterman this June, Dave mentions that he opened for artist Aretha Franklin at Radio City Music Hall when he was only 19. The entertainer has contributed to the hip-hop community substantially, not only through the musical acts which he featured on his show, but also in events such as the free Brooklyn concert, the comedian hosted in 2004. The event was the subject of a documentary, entitled Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.
Rapper Kanye West reportedly made his first television appearance on Chappelle’s Show in 2004. During his upcoming Radio City Music Hall performance scheduled later this month, which coincides with the artist’s acclaimed block party a decade earlier. Dave has enlisted rapper Nas to perform, accompanied by a full orchestra; in his interview with Letterman, Chappelle calls Nas’s Illmatic one of the best hip-hop albums ever produced. Also scheduled to perform at some of Chappelle’s Radio City Music Hall engagements, June 23-26, are artists Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, the Roots, DJ Premier and Janelle Monae, with more artists to be announced.
Over the decade since his recession from the public eye, Chappelle has cited many reasons for his leave of absence. In June 2004, an unsavory standup performance in which Chappelle walked off stage due to unruly fans, the audience reportedly would not stop repeating his famous line, “I’m Rick James, b***h!” over the top of his monologue, seemed to mark the beginning of the end for Chappelle’s Show.
In interviews following his departure, Chappelle claimed that emotional distress from the passing of his father seven years prior was impossible to deal with while working on the show’s production. The comedian also stated that racism played a part in his decision, describing a scenario in which a Caucasian associate laughed more at than with him during the filming of a sketch, causing Chappelle to rethink the impact of his influence over audiences. In addition, and in more than one interview, Chappelle has cited feelings of being manipulated by those around him and feeling generally overwhelmed as being the major reasons for abandoning the spotlight in 2005.
Recent public appearance reminds fans of Dave Chappelle’s rise to success, and revives an interest in origins of his fame for new and established fans. Chappelle was born August 24, 1973 in Washington, D.C., in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he continues to reside today. Dubbed David Khari Webber Chappelle, the comedian’s father taught as a professor at Antioch College, and his mother was a professor and minister who taught at Howard University and the University of Maryland. Chappelle stated publicly that he idolized comedians such as Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy from a young age. The artist moved to New York City to pursue his career as a comedian after graduating from Duke Ellington’s School of the Arts in D.C. Through dogged efforts and after many gigs in the New York City comedy circuit, Chappelle quickly managed to rather establish a name for himself. At the age of only 19, Dave Chappelle appeared in Robin Hood: Men in Tights as the character Achoo.
Between 1993 and 2002, Chappelle appeared in many more films and sitcoms, including his arguably most renowned film Half Baked, a stoner buddy comedy and cult classic filmed in 1998. In 2000, Chappelle recorded an hour-long HBO special, Killing Them Softly, and in 2003, Chappelle’s Show debuted on Comedy Central. The show ran for less than three seasons and in that time, it was nominated for two Emmy Awards.
Rumors of a tour with comedian Chris Rock have begun to simmer as Chappelle’s stand-up appearances become more frequent. While there are no hard or firm dates available for new nationwide tours, Dave Chappelle’s recent public appearances, interviews and engagements revive the old hope that he may have a taste for the fame that he shrugged off a decade prior. He spoke jocularly about money in his interview with David Letterman, saying that he has decided money can buy a certain degree of happiness. Fans speculate hopefully that comments like these could mean Chappelle may be getting back up into a network saddle sometime in the near future.
By Mariah Beckman