When most people hear the name ‘Dave Chappelle’ they probably will remember the popular sketch show he created. Chappelle’s Show first aired on Comedy Central back in 2003. Throughout the show he impersonates Lil’ John, Samuel L. Jackson and Prince, shows what GTA would look like in reality, makes fun of white supremacists, and artfully blasts racial identities in a news-style coverage of a racial draft. But for all the success of the show, the comedian, who has been touted as one of the greatest comic geniuses in America, has built a prolific career in writing, stand up, and acting.
A comedian of raw talent who’s not afraid to challenge his audience’s acceptance, Chappelle gained the attention of big names like Whoopi Goldberg and Aretha Franklin. At a young age he was appearing publicly doing stand up. He started making a name for himself. But it was in the 90s when his career started to really take off and gain wider recognition. Famous roles in films helped. Among these are his roles in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Con Air, and his appearance as freestyling comedian, Reggie, in The Nutty Professor. However, it is his second hit comedy special, Dave Chappelle: Killin’ Them Softly, that showed he could hold his own among other greats like Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy. His satire of the police and their treatment of black people showed off the absurdity of the age where black people are criminalized, racially profiled, and still marginalized.
Political Satire: Social Commentary on Black America
This introspective look at culture in America paints a stark picture of the realities black people face. Underlying his comedy is the need to speak out on social and political issues that affect them. He did this perfectly back in the day with his bit on chilling out with his white friend, Chip, who seemed to get away with more than a black guy ever could.
Chris Rock also does this effectively when he talks about the people who really rule America – the ones with the wealth. He mocks the accepted status quo of America’s rich and powerful in a land that is touted as one of opportunity:
“There are no wealthy black or brown people in America. We got some rich ones, we don’t got no fuckin’ wealth. People go: ‘What’s the difference?’ Here’s the difference: Shaq is rich. The white man that signs his check is wealthy.”
From 2000 to the Beyond: the Lasting Appeal of Chappelle
From the year 2000 onward, Dave Chappelle has had a career filled with all the hallmarks of success – the highs and lows, the laughter and the struggles. He famously left his show after seeing how much it took out of him to write and produce it. He produced and promoted hip-hop and neo-soul artists in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. Then in 2007 he abruptly disappeared from television and film. His retreating from the limelight for several years worked in his favor. His standup DVDs still sold. HBO still aired re-runs of The Chappelle Show. He still performed his routines at the Laugh Factory and Comedy Jam. But it’s almost as if his absence from the media created a cry out for more Chappelle. Now, to thunderous applause, he returns with a new show streaming on Netflix titled simply Dave Chappelle. What is great about the show is that he doesn’t just focus on the laughs. In his first episode, The Age of Spin, he takes some time to question what’s happening in the world:
“How can you care about anything when you know every, god damn thing? I’m gettin’ over one cop shooting, and then another one happens, and then another one happens and another one happens. I’m cryin’ about Paris, then Brussels happens. I can’t keep track of all this shit so you just give the fuck up. That’s the hallmark of your generation. And that’s fucked up because your generation lives in the most difficult time in human history.”
Some of the things that make his image endure is his ability to use his voice and physical humor. Dave Chappelle can also cunningly shifts gears on topics. He moves from surreal recollections of his infamous adventures and tongue-in-check brutal takedowns to the issues of today. He received a lot of attention and backlash for some of his more offensive observations. But just as many people came to his defense. People argued that Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor were just as rude. Some even made concessions over the fact that he was using this critical edge as a vehicle to discuss and push the boundaries on what people really accept and think. Take his comments on the LGBTQ community:
“How the fuck are transgender people beating black people in the discrimination Olympics?”
His joke underlies the frustration that transgender people seem to be getting more support and acceptance than black people. It seems to highlight that America still has a greater problem dealing with race than dealing with gender equality. Despite this, he received a backlash for his comments. He also managed to put off some of his long-time fans with his constant references to the Bill Cosby court case and making distasteful, less than subtle rape jokes. Yet despite the shock value of his latest shows, which have taken on a little more introspective and political edge, Dave Chappelle’s long awaited return to the stage was met with a strong positive reaction from fans worldwide.
With his first truly new standup special set to air December 31st (The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas) and his first ever Emmy win, Dave’s career has been looking brighter than ever. It’s been looking more and more like he made the right decision back in ’07 to step away from the spotlight. If there’s any such thing as karmic justice then he might just be the living proof.
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