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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Miseducation of Dave Chappelle

It's no secret that I don't particularly like Dave Chappelle. When he was doing the "Chappelle's Show" on Comedy Central, there were times when I simply had to leave the room. I find the endless toilet humour and inane racism of his comedy grating, and although I appreciate some of his sketches (for example, "The Mad Real World"), he misses as often as he hits. That being said, I completely understood why Chappelle left Comedy Central. CNN posted a video today which basically surmounted to a big question mark: why the hell did Dave Chappelle turn down $50 million dollars and vanish to Africa, leaving the third season of Chappelle's Show unfinished? Lola Ogunnaike of the New York Times Arts section paints a picture of Dave Chappelle as being confused, unable to articulate the reason he left in a series of high-profile interviews. There's a scene from Oprah in which Chappelle says some nonsensical bullshit in response to Oprah's question. Here's the problem though -- Dave Chappelle, while not being the most articulate guy on race politics, has explained why he quit the show. He said in an interview (I think for "Inside the Actor's Studio") that he left because he was doing a sketch and he looked over and saw White people laughing, not with him, but at him. They were laughing "at the wrong thing". Basically, Chappelle woke up one morning and realized that he had become a high-priced coon. The rest of the story is fairly straightforward, too. Chappelle experienced a crisis of conscience, and realized that no amount of money, not even $50 million, is worth the price of his soul, and he quit. He returned to Africa where he spent some time being alone and trying to reconcile how badly he had sold out. And now he's back trying to pursue his comedy without burning a cork or two. And yet, mainstream media can't seem to implicitly get that. As if this business of being a "sell-out" is beyond their vocabulary, it seems that this reason just isn't enough. While Dave Chappelle hasn't done a good job articulating his crisis of conscience (and that is a problem Chappelle should address within himself), it strikes me as a little flat that White America seems to need the explanation. As a person of colour, I understood exactly what was bothering Chappelle the minute I saw his first interview upon his return, in which his departure was addressed. It was understandable, his decision to leave almost laudatory. Is it so impossible to believe that $50 million isn't enough to get someone to sell-out their race? Or does White privilege demand a stubborn refusal to even imagine the kind of racial integrity that a person of colour must uphold? Seeing this inability by mainstream media to represent the implicit understanding by a person of colour of Chappelle's point of view only underscores how obviously catering to a White perspective mainstream media is. Only for people who don't already get it would this story's spin be news-worthy. And I react badly to such an in-your-face reminder of the marginalization of minorities and our identity. Then again, if Chappelle is to be believed, the show itself was always catering to a White audience. This weekend, Comedy Central will be releasing the "lost episodes" of the Chappelle's Show, filmed before Chappelle's departure and hosted by Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings. Donnell Rawlings says "Dave, come back! I need the money!" So, I guess it's true that no matter how many decent entertainers of colour unwilling to sell-out their race for an extra buck, and no matter how much we decry our unimpotance in the face of the White masses, you'll find just as many people of colour eagerly willing to don the chicken suit and a sea of White faces willing to laugh at their on-screen minstrelsy antics.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chappelle is really a person to be admired--not just for his satire--but for his decision to walk away from Comedy Central.

I think part of the problem with Dave and Comedy Central was that he always knew that there was this 'other' audience he was addressing. Part of the bicultural speak that black Americans must use to 'get along' in this society.

You hear him talk about that a bit in Block Party with ?estlove. That draining experience of dealing constantly with white expectations. And even now he's still having to manage those (largely white) reactions to his departure. Calling him crazy and all kinds of names.

And I shouldn't be amazed at the gall of these writers who call Dave inarticulate re: his reasons for leaving or about race. Just because people feel they're entitled to an answer doesn't mean he has to give a 'good reason'. This is yet another POC response to a hostile white mainstream environment.

I wish there was a way he could've stayed with the show. Because Central's replacement with Ned Holness just shows how cynical these people are regarding 'race talk'.

~recumbentgoat

7/05/2006 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

The problem remains that Chappelle was inarticulate about his racial concerns, so much so that he described his departure as a reaction to the pitfalls of celebrity as much as his reaction to cooning for mainstream audiences.

The Oprah interview was the best example of this: Chappelle could have come out and said that he tired of playing Sambo, and Oprah would have understood the point. Somehow, Chappelle could not place the debate in those terms. Sure, I believe the departure was entirely a reaction to the racial dynamic of his show, but Chappelle should have been able to state that plainly.

7/05/2006 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think as usual, the blame of racism and the burden of racial dialogue is put on people of color.

Fans of Chappelle know that the Comedy Central deal wasn't the first and last time Dave's ever going to make any money.

What pisses off people is the audacity of this 'uppity negro'--who dared to leave on his own terms.

We've seen what kind of smears other PoC have had to endure because white folk don't like what they're doing.

And I didn't get a chance to watch the CNN video before I left my comment---but I think it's very telling that Comedy Central continues to spin this image of Dave as being the 'crazy one'. *And* they had to get other black people to do it! haaaaaa!!

~recumbentgoat

7/05/2006 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger jose said...

I think we concur that Chapelle leaving was admirable? The inarticulation, I have to side with recumbentgoat, especially after seeing the CNN clip, is due more to Chapelle's situation and how it is being spun. There is white entitlement that expects him to be the non-threatening yet socially-relevent entertainer of color. It's only okay if Bill Cosby rants about what black people have to do, but it's not if Chapelle is going to rant about what white people were doing wrong.

In season two, he has a comedy-drama moment when he discusses a skit from season one that involved the use of the N-word. He made a point of the ludicrousness of the situation in which white fans would use the slur in front of him as a form of appreciation. He mentions something about the slur having different effects on different black people but ultimately, possibly very hurtful, and it was clear he didn't approve of white entitlement to use the slurs because he put it in a skit. He then proceeds to introduce the next skit, "The N***a* Family", inevitably causing masses of white people to sing the slur.

The only thing he could do to stop it was to stop producing the content. No amount of explaining after the fact would solve anything. Furthermore, he doesn't owe white people an explanation they wouldn't understand or want to understand.

The CNN clip is seriously slanted on the "only a crazy person would give up $55M" angle. As previously mentioned, they have other POC corroborating the idea. They have a Hollywood Reporter describing the Oprah interview as "talking in circles". Like it or not, Chapelle's situation is due to being both celebrity and minstrel, but ultimately, he is a victim.

7/05/2006 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Dave Chappelle, brilliant comic he may be, has confused the general audience with his departure, return, and muddled explanations of his travels. It's a basic show-biz adage: the show must go on. If he was unable or unwilling to perform that show anymore, he should have been able to discuss his reasons and explain his logic without confusion.

Any sane Black person already knows that mainstream American media outlets desire to portray African American celebs as weird and zany and illogical, for profit. Think about it: how often does entertainment news center around the totally crazy antics of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Robert Kelly? Hell, Dave Chappelle knows full well the dangers of media spin, so why give anti-Black image detractors the ammunition of personal irresponsibility? Chappelle's Show started to make minor stars of people like Charlie Murphy; from a business perspective, it's unfair to suddenly leave those folk in the lurch without plausible explanation.

Further, Dave Chappelle is not a victim of media race bias or some poster child for African American personal integrity. He's an entertainer, and one can disagree with the obviously anti-Black tenor of his negative press while one wishes Dave Chappelle possessed the articulation required to discuss American race relations in Hollywood.

The Time magazine interview he gave in South Africa offers the image of a man conflicted, but not crazy. Still, if he left over racial issues, he should be able to talk about them to anyone; African Americans like Dave Chappelle can't pick and choose their reflections on their own melanin. Chappelle had no problem with race when producing sketches like The Black White Supremacist, The Niggar Family or the Racial Draft, so it's not an unfair expectation for Chappelle to discuss the racial components of his early retirement.

Dave Chappelle burnt cork on every episode of his show; voluntarily, if you believe Comedy Central's consistent assertions that he retained full creative control over the series. Chappelle himself was responsible for that stuff, including characters like Tyrone the crackhead. Of course, the stuff was funny, and made him rich, but Dave Chappelle was being paid to lampoon Black folk for immense non-Black audiences, period. After personal capitalistic success by degrading Black folk publicly, I find it weird that so many African Americans back his decision to leave the show, and elevate him as some later-day Muhammad Ali, another badass Black Muslim who wouldn't play nice for Whitey, without understanding his reasons. Do we want to be degraded, or disappointed?

Honestly, I think Chappelle's departure involved celebrity stress, financial issues, creative control at Comedy Central, on-set racism, audience racism, and other interpersonal factors between Chappelle himself and longtime collaborator Neal Brennen. But Dave had all the time he wanted to figure that out; upon his return, he should have known what he was going to tell the fans that made him worth $50 million in the first place.

Until his explanation makes sense, no one can judge Chappelle's leaving as admirable, I think.

7/05/2006 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Dei Wong said...

To be honest I think Dave Chappelle made the mistake of feeling he didn't have to provide an explanation. Look how hard it was for people to approach him on the subject he wouldn't even address it. I remember watching Chappelle on Charlie Rose before his departure was even close to being final. This is before the talk of him getting 50 million. He said that he felt like doing to the networks what they did to him and others. Pull the rug out from under them in a matter of speaking.

I agree that Dave Chappelle has yet to produce a decent explanation. I really think that there are thing behind the scenes that he has not addressed. He had a rocky start even getting the show, but I doubt by early next year anyone would care

As far as his material on the show maybe sometimes its a tad offensive or at times in bad taste. There are numerous comics of every ethnicity who make fun of their race and others. Chappelle just had a medium to project his comedy on a vast scale. Chappelle has not changed any in his routine before or after Chappelle Show so I see no problem in African Americans backing him. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Redd Foxx, talked about their race. Redd Foxx even said the N word on TV. Plus for its time Richard Pryor’s show was pretty bad for the time it was showed. George Lopez in his stand says crazy things about his race sometimes crazier than Chappelle. Bobby Lee does all kinds of crazy things on that subject. All these people from what I have seen have the support of their community. These people aren’t even as bad as Sarah Silverman. I just don’t see Chappelle or any of the people I mention as grossly offensive.

Before anyone says just because someone else does it. Why are we focusing on these people doing stereotypical comedy that everyone knows is not true. How many Caucasians are after Jeff Foxworthy or the cast of Jackass. Though they control most of the media it’s still a question to think about. I highly if doubt any of these people or this brand of comedy was done by them were to stop that silly stereotypes for follow. I even doubt greater that they help enforce them. Unless people are will to voice out in great numbers. More so than now for more positive representation nothing will change. But I would never hang the blame on them.

7/06/2006 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger daughter of the dream said...

Was I the only once who saw his 2-hour appearance on Inside The Actor's Studio?

After watching that it was clear as all get out and HE was certainly clear.

7/10/2006 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Dorothy said...

Has anyone seen the second half of the aired sketch when the audience has the chance to air their views? I thought it was interesting that almost everyone's comments got cut off before they were able to start on criticizing the sketch; the only negative things said are very mild and you can tell that some people definitely said a lot more than what was shown... Damn editing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usDsv84iXrQ&mode=related&search=

8/28/2006 07:41:00 PM  

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