DAR Comedy: The Return of Dave Chappelle

By @TrueGodImmortal 

It's been 14 years since the premiere of Chappelle's Show. It doesn't feel like it's been that long, but that's an indicator of quickly time can fly. From the first scene of the Clayton Bigsby skit to the end of the MTV Cribs inspired skit that came as a part of the "lost episodes", Chappelle changed pop culture with his show and he did it at a time when the world was in need of someone to make us laugh while using social commentary. During the show, Chappelle tackled a number of issues, but the most prevalent seemed to be racism. He wasn't afraid to push the button on these issues from the Racial Draft to Clayton Bigsby, he would address racism in many different aspects, something that would have an impact on his audience beyond belief. His impact was so greatly felt during the show, but it would be his departure from the show that really made waves.

As the third season of the show was shooting and underway, Dave began to feel uncomfortable. After a 50 million dollar deal that guaranteed two more seasons of Chappelle's Show, he was in the driver's seat and in that familiar position that we see many celebrities in before they become over saturated and slightly controlled by Hollywood. After fighting for many years to achieve a certain level of success, Dave had finally done it, and even more, he did it his way. With a bunch of failed sitcom plots, as well as a few minor film roles, Chappelle struggled to find his proper footing in the industry.  With Chappelle's Show, he brought his vision to life, with an uncensored humor and such awareness that hadn't been seen in a comedian since the days of Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. He brought ribaldry in its purest form within his stand up and television show, earning him a distinction as the funniest man in America, if not the world.

However, as soon as things can go up, they can go down, especially for one who lives to a certain standard. Going back to the shooting of the third season for Chappelle's Show, Dave began feeling uncomfortable as mentioned due to some of the white crew members for the show laughing a bit too hard at one of the racially charged, stereotype heavy sketches. Morally speaking, Dave wondered if perhaps his love for comedy had maybe crossed a line and if he needed to draw back a bit. That, coupled with the increasing pressure of exceeding the second season and Comedy Central on his back led Dave to take a vacation in South Africa. Many would proclaim drugs as the cause for his departure and paint Dave as crazy, a familiar tactic for any celebrity who decides to step away from the limelight for a second.

However, with Dave it was different. After returning from his vacation in South Africa, which he's said numerous times was only intended to clear his head and gain some perspective, he would get back to work in a way. He would release his Dave Chappelle's Block Party concert film in 2006 and through the interviews in the promotion for the film, he would attempt to clear his name and stand up to the rumors leveled against him. However, one has to note that his appearance on Inside The Actor's Studio was telling, as he hinted a not so safe (or genuine) environment  for the workers of the entertainment industry. It seemed as if the more Dave got closer and closer to the big time spotlight, the less he wanted it or needed it. So, once he finished out his promotion for the Block Party movie, Dave seemed to be comfortable falling back and staying away from the mainstream. That is, until recently. With Netflix announcing a mega deal with Chappelle to produced three stand up specials and Chappelle recently hosting Saturday Night Live, slowly but surely, a comeback is being completed. What's even better is that this comeback is being done on what is seemingly his own terms. For many, this return of Dave Chappelle has come very quickly and suddenly, but the truth is, the return has been the slowest build in Hollywood, which is exactly how I figure Chappelle would want it. Let's take a look at the step by step genesis of the Chappelle return, starting with his activities after the mini 2006 resurgence and all the way up until now.

*Sporadic Stand Up Comedy Return And Appearances 
-In 2006, before the dust had settled on the Chappelle's Show "demise", Dave went back to what made him the comedian he was: the stage. Dave had expressed a willingness to return to Chappelle's Show to finish what he started as long as Comedy Central would adhere to his simple requests. Instead, Comedy Central released the unpolished and unfinished Chappelle's Show sketches and this killed any hope of Dave returning. Let's be clear, when we speak of what really went down with Chappelle's Show, the fault isn't really with Dave, but rather the greed of Comedy Central. One has to wonder what type of greatness we would have witnessed if Dave could have come back and finished the season or maybe another two. The possibilities were endless (especially going into 2006 and 2007), but due to Comedy Central, we'll never know.

With Chappelle's Show forever in his rearview, Dave would find comfort going back to the stand up stage and regaining his hunger and drive for comedy. In 2007, he would make history multiple times, as he would show up to the Laugh Factory Comedy Club and attempt to break Dane Cook's record for the longest stand-up comedy routine (I'm sure Dave's routine was much better than the dry and awful comedy of Cook). Dave would successfully complete his first attempt, before coming back in December 2007 to break his own record. Dave ended up doing a 6 hour and 12 minute comedy routine to break his own record, which in many ways is absolutely insane. To have the ability to stand up for 6 hours plus and tell jokes consistently is something that only one of the greatest can do, and for Chappelle to maintain his comedy consistently that long TWICE is really something special.

Although I don't find Dane Cook funny, he also has to be given credit, because he ended up breaking that 6 hours and 12 minute record just a month later in January 2008. In February 2009, Dave would end up on the stage at The Comic Strip Live, and do comedy for what is believed to be 8 hours long, a crazy feat in itself. Dave would do random stand up comedy pop ups and even have a few shows here and there, but he didn't seem fully interested in making a full fledged comeback. Through 2006-2009, the only thing that we began noticing about Chappelle is that he had been in the gym and put on some weight, which became the talk of those outlets like TMZ and Access Hollywood, whenever they got a glimpse of Dave. The same thing that Dave didn't seem to like in the first place was still around and prevalent in his life somehow, even after he took a step back from fame. The only time we saw Dave on television during this period was a rare appearance on the 200th episode of Inside The Actors Studio, which aired in November 2008. Other than that, we really didn't see much of Chappelle, unless you were lucky to be in a stand up comedy club on a random night, or perhaps you bought tickets to one of his closer to home shows (he usually did stand up shows near Ohio, instead of touring far).  Obviously, Chappelle wasn't ready to return just yet (unless you count sitting courtside at NBA games as a return), but he still had the itch to make people laugh.

*Official Return To Stand Up Full Time
-When 2013 kicked off, I had given up hope on Chappelle ever returning to television, film, or even a big stand up special. It seemed as if he was fully comfortable in his role at home and away from the spotlight, sans the occasional stand up performance. Aside from his 2011 appearance at the Comedy Jam in San Francisco, there wasn't much to speak of in terms of high profile appearances. He would show up to the 250th episode of Inside The Actors Studio, and would begin making appearances again at award shows and concerts, but he strayed from the spotlight at those and we would only know of his presence there through a picture or two. He wasn't presenting at the awards nor was he on stage at concerts. Once again, I thought we had seen the last of Dave Chappelle in the limelight, as I didn't expect Hollywood to really work within the constraints he wished. Even when he was announced as the official headliner for the Oddball Comedy And Curiosity Festival, I still didn't believe it. Considering the fact that the festival was thrown by Funny or Die, I would wonder if perhaps Chappelle would not show up or perhaps we had all been fooled.

We weren't being fooled, thankfully, and Chappelle would be back to doing stand up, though it didn't come without its share of hiccups. In Hartford, Connecticut, Chappelle would be heckled by some ignorant audience members and eventually he would be drowned out and have to stop his performance. The audience members, who were young and white drunk men (no shock), were being raucous and completely ridiculous, including a chant of "white power", which many assumed to be a nod to the Black White Supremacist character Clayton Bigsby, but who knows if this was the case. The incident in Hartford left a bad mark on a near flawless stand up career and Chappelle would bounce back from it by doing other performances and delighting more audiences in places like Chicago, California, and of course his home of Ohio. It would almost seem like Chappelle was preparing for something big to come next. Could it be a full fledged comedy tour? Or a return to TV? Or something else? We'd soon learn what that something was, and though it wouldn't be a full fledged comedy tour, it was a start. A big start.

*10 Nights In New York 
I was sitting inside of a wrestling event in North Carolina when my phone lit up and I got a notification that Chappelle was doing a set of performances in New York City at Radio City Music Hall. I thought, "he's going to gift his audience with two or three final performances and bow out. He's going out on his terms". When I ended up seeing that Chappelle had 10 nights at Radio City Music Hall set for June 2014, I was ecstatic. That excitement I had dwindled once I wasn't able to secure tickets to any of the shows, but nonetheless, I was excited to see that Chappelle would perform again in the Big Apple. To top it off, Chappelle would enlist a number of great musical acts to assist him on the shows, including The Roots and Nas, two of the most prolific names in hip hop. He would turn those 10 nights into something magnetic, attacking topical moments like Donald Sterling, the change in society, racism (of course), and other funny bits. This was a landmark moment in his career and it was the first high profile moment we had from Chappelle since he released Block Party in 2006. He would continue to do stand up after those 10 nights, including a return to Hartford, in which he received a standing ovation as well. Needless to say, this was a stamp that Chappelle was back, and for all of us, hopefully here to stay.

He would make his return even more official with a GQ cover that gave him credit for being one of the men of the year in 2014. The comeback was official, but it still wasn't quite completed. Chappelle embarked back on the road for more stand up shows and as he returned to form, one had to wonder he had something else up his sleeve.

*Chi-Raq and Saturday Night Live
-I wasn't too keen on watching the Spike Lee film Chi-Raq, as I had heard differing opinions on the film from people. I figured, why not try and take a look myself, and when it was released, one thing stood out to me when I saw the trailer: Dave Chappelle. Chappelle starred in the film in a short cameo, and although the appearance in the film wasn't anything too significant, to see Dave on the big screen meant a lot. It meant he was inching closer to coming back even more, which could result in a number of things. After the movie was released, Chappelle ended up staying on the road and doing his stand up routine. He was staying consistent and more than likely, that itch to make people laugh on a bigger level had to be there. I was browsing the internet when I saw a notification that read "Dave Chappelle To Host SNL", and at that moment I stopped and smiled. If there was anything that could really signal a comeback, this was it.

Saturday Night Live was one of the biggest sketch comedy shows in the history of TV, and to many, it's the biggest. It's the "original", so to speak, as it has been around for 40 plus seasons and made plenty of stars. For Chappelle, hosting SNL was a lifelong dream in a way (he mentioned that he wanted to be a cast member years ago), and it manifested during a tumultuous time in the country. The announcement came a few days before the Presidential Election, with A Tribe Called Quest to be the musical guests for the night. When the election was over, and Donald Trump was announced as president, many eyes turned to Dave to help ease the uncertainty and frustration of the situation at hand. As SNL started and Dave walked out for his opening monologue, I started to wonder if he would be rusty or if he wouldn't be funny at all, which seemed impossible, but considering the SNL restraints, they could have watered him down. No such thing happened. Dave was in his comfort zone, firing off shot after shot, joke after joke, as if he never left. The opening monologue was only the beginning.

After the opening monologue, Chappelle's Show fans were given a treat in the form of two sketches that felt like they'd been ripped from a Chappelle's Show episode. The Election Day sketch showcased the shock and awe that white people seemingly felt when Trump was elected, while the lone black man (Chappelle himself) at the house during the election seemed less than surprised. Chris Rock made an appearance and the two seemingly rattled off a few improv jokes at the expense of the white party attenders. It was genius and as close to an accurate depiction of the real events of the night. Another great sketch came in the form of a Walking Dead parody with Chappelle as Negan, as he resurrected some of his most infamous Chappelle's Show characters like Tyrone Biggums, Silky Johnson, Clayton Bigsby, Chuck Taylor, and his portrayal of Lil Jon. It was a nice homage to his classic creations, and it had everyone talking. For 90 minutes, Chappelle delighted the audience and took most minds off of the election results. After Chappelle hosted SNL, many of us wondered what was the next move for him. Would he go back to the stand up circuit? Was he going to take another break? Or was there something else on the horizon? Surely he couldn't make such a triumphant return via SNL and then go away again, right?

*Netflix And Chappelle
-Shortly after the Saturday Night Live hosting gig, my suspicions were confirmed that Chappelle had something else up his sleeve. About a week after the SNL appearance, Netflix announced a mega deal with Chappelle to release three stand up specials. The Netflix deal was rumored to be for 60 million dollars, with 20 million being given out for each special. Two of the specials were previously taped in previous performances and would simply be edited down and released, while the third special would be newly filmed exclusively for Netflix. Chappelle is teaming up with director Stan Lathan to bring these three specials to light. The first two were officially given release dates earlier today, and the world is abuzz. An audio clip of some of the performance played on the official trailer as Chappelle looks pensive staring away from the camera. The two specials, apparently titled Dave Chappelle: The Art of Spin (filmed in Los Angeles in March 2016), and Dave Chappelle: In The Heart of Texas (filmed in Austin, TX in April 2015), will be released on March 21st. I personally can't wait for these specials to be released and I'm anxious to hear about the third special and when it'll be released also. Is this the start of a long term partnership for Chappelle and Netflix? One has to wonder, but I'm really interested to see how his stand up comedy specials hold up, and how he will fare in this ridiculously sensitive society. If anyone can offend yet enlighten, it's Chappelle, and he will likely do just that with these amazing performances.

*What Could Be Next
-If you're like me, you're wondering what's the next move for Dave. After three Netflix specials, could we be gearing up for a big time stand up comedy tour spawning multiple countries? He's certainly got the audience and popularity for it. There was a big rumor of Chris Rock and Dave doing a stand up tour together and one would wonder if both of those comedians working with Netflix could turn into something even bigger once they finish with their solo deals. I'd probably go crazy if we got the announcement of a Kings of Comedy style movie from Chris Rock and Chappelle, and even more so if it was premiered via Netflix. There was also talk of Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, and Chappelle all teaming up at one point, but we all know that's not likely to happen. Still, you've got to wonder, could there be something bigger in the works in the stand up comedy realm? Or, could there be something else brewing?

A big part of me wants to believe that Chappelle is planning a return to sketch comedy, or maybe an original sitcom series, especially considering the freedom that he will have in a partnership with Netflix. Could we see the second coming of Chappelle's Show? Could we see Half Baked 2 (no, let's hope not, but just thinking out loud)? I think that's exactly what will have us on the edge of our seats for the next move from Chappelle is the uncertainty. We don't know if he will disappear again to not be heard from, or if he will return yet again for another round of stand up specials. Regardless, no matter what Chappelle does next, you can guarantee one thing: it will be done on his terms.



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