An episode of last week's OPRAH was particularly intriguing. Comedian Dave Chappelle - amidst media controversy & speculative rumors suggesting he was smoking crack and/or in a mental institution - sat down w/ Winfrey to set the record straight. This was the first television interview since his self-imposed sabbatical from his award-winning comedy show on the Comedy Network cable channel.
Towards the end of his second season, he was offered a record $50 million contract. But when was the last time a Black male comedian was given THAT kind of money w/ out puppet strings? Malcolm X once suggested a Black man who is not paranoid needs to think again about life in America. As Chappelle aptly noted, "when people give you a lot of money they have a vested interest in controlling you."
Three years ago the Comedy Network toiled in obscurity. Along came a bright, funny, political Black male comic, in the tradition of Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor & Chris Rock, who ultimatelty revived the network in its very first season. The "Chappelle Show," quickly became an underground success. His brash, unapologetic take on class, race & sexuality was embraced across the cultural divide. The ratings for the "Chappelle Show," reached number one amongst all programming on that cable channel.
Chappelle, much like Arsenio Hall, embraced the best of hip hop culture every week. He prominently featured Black affirming artists including Erykah Badu, Common, Mos Def, Snoop Dogg, Talib Kweli, MC Lyte, Outkast, The Roots, Slum Village & Kanye West. Often, when artists would perform on the stage, Chappelle could be seen in the background bopping his head to the funky beats. He offered a sense of community, consciousness & culture that was refreshing.
After the success of the show's first season, a DVD was immediatley released, though producers couldn't have anticipated the type of public support it received. The "Chappelle Show," sold more DVD's than any other show in the history of television, including over one million copies in just eight days! Yeah, I copped the bootleg...but don't hate, appreciate. The network responded with a fat contract which had Chappelle fighting for his sanity & integrity in an industry where the white, power structure expects you to flip like a pancake because you're a Black man geting paid.
The slim, well dressed comedian was visibly uncomfortable on the show. Chappelle constantly adjusted his seat, moving around & speaking methodically about his current plight. Oprah was fair, firm & focused in her questioning. She listened intently as Chappelle painfully struggled w/ sharing the complex nature of his internal war. At one point, Chappelle said he didn't "want the Black community to be disappointed in him," leading Oprah to astutely interject, "you mean, you don't want to be disappointed in yourself." Chappelle remarked, "you're right, Oprah."
Chappelle talked about how a "few of his sketches were funny, but socially irresponsible." His sensitivity was both appreciated & noted by Oprah several times, as she affirmed his emotional turmoil. When she asked him did he lose his mind, he said, "no, I went crazy, not in a bad way, but I was incredibly stressed out...I needed a break, so I went to Africa & didn't tell anyone until I got there."
What I found fascinating was Chappelle's insight into the demonization of the Black male. He understood how white supremacy opportunistically infects the media, instilling fear, greed & mistrust around the very people he needed to produce his brilliant show. Chappelle conceded his show was "difficult to do...there's a lot of work that goes into the show...they wanted to change some things & they were wrong 100 percent of the time."
As for the vicious rumors, Chappelle quickly squashed the drug scandal, saying he "wasn't on drugs & hasn't been for years." He was publicly open about his heavy marijuana use. The primarily white, female audience howled when, after Oprah questiond his mental state, he said, "who leaves America to go to Africa for medical attention?" Finally, when asked if he'd come back, he said he wanted total creative control, a healthy work environment, some fun again, along w/ the opportunity to reward those people who supported his DVD's.
Chappelle wanted to give money to the people in Louisiana victimized by governmental neglect in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Oprah interrupted him by saying, "you're on national tv, you just can't say you want to give money away, folks will be lined up at your door." Chappelle said he "wants to do it, but that doesn't mean I'm going to do it." His generosity, spirit & warmth was evident throughout the entire show. My sense is the next season of the "Chappelle Show," will go through the roof.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. email@example.com.