“The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everybody is watching” – Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle is quite easily the funniest stand up comedians of our time. The Comedy Central rates him forty-third in the list of 100 greatest stand-ups of all time. He dabbled in the areas of screen writing, acting and producing shows but he always had his heart for stand up comedy.
He debuted on Television in 2003 with his weekly sketch comedy show on Comedy Central called the Chappelle’s show. It was one of those shows that parodied racial stereotypes, pop culture and politics but Chappelle’s acute observation of society and his ability to point out the hypocricy and racism inherent in the society garnered the show critical and commercial acclaim. The DVD set of the show became the best selling DVD of a television show to date surpassing the sales of the DVD of the first season of The Simpsons.
Chappelle was one of those guys who had the audacity to stand up against the dictums of the Studio guys and he learnt the hard way how Hollywood works. He disliked how the studio would censor his content to dumb down the things that he had to say to the people. He always felt that his fans were wise enough to get what he wanted to say. He would soon figure out how wrong he was.
In June 2004 during a stand-up performance in California, he was constantly interrupted by the audience who kept shouting “I am Rick James, Bitch”, which was his famous catch phrase from one of the sketches that he had done for The Comedy Central. Chappelle snapped out that day on stage and told the audience to understand that the popularity of the show was making it hard for him to do the one thing that he enjoyed the most and that was – doing stand up shows.
“You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you’re not smart enough to get what I’m doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.”, a frustrated Chappelle told the audience and left the stage.
He felt guilty for his father’s death because he couldn’t be there with him when he had a stroke. He was busy flying between his home in Africa and Hollywood to attend meetings with Hollywood Producers who liked the pilot of a show he had made. They suggested him to recast the leading lady with someone who was more ‘universally appealing’. Dave understood what they had a problem with was that the leading lady was a black woman and they wanted him to rope in a white actress to replace her. He said he couldn’t make that change and left all that he had at the prime of his career and returned to his house in Africa. Currently he avoids the media, keeping a low profile and making surprise visits at small time comedy clubs.
I admire his sense of humour but more than that – the more I read or see interviews about him, I realize how success could have different definitions for different people. While almost all black comedians, including Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy have worn a girl’s outfit, Dave fought with the Director of the movie and convinced them that he was more funny than a drag outfit.
His one statement that puts everything in perspective is :
“I would go to work on the show and I felt awful every day, that’s not the way it was. … I felt like some kind of prostitute or something. If I feel so bad, why keep on showing up to this place? I’m going to Africa. The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everybody is watching.”
In case you are interested in exploring his style of humour, follow the given links to his three shows.
Killing them softly : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq0Ce3UqKDs
For what its worth : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uhbddux00Eo
Dave Chappelle in San Francisco : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxOIbQsm3F0