Dave Chappelle is no laughing matter. But his new comedy series Chappelle’s Show (Comedy Central; Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. EST), well, that’s another story. As producer, writer (with Neal Brennan) and star of the edgy improvisational sketch series, this brother is serious about the voice of his show.
“So many guys have good shows, but [they aren’t writing the material],” says Chappelle. If it’s just you and another dude, then there’s no question if it’s your stuff. If you fail, you get all the blame and if you succeed, you get all the joy. And, I’d rather take the chance and get my due because I fancy myself prolific,” he says with a laugh.
Chappelle’s Show is an extension of the Washington, D.C. native’s irreverent and in-your-face comedy routine. It features sketches, parodies and stand-up interaction with a studio audience as well as a musical segment with mostly hip-hop artists. (The artists include Busta Rhymes, The Roots and Talib Kweli.) “What I would expect from comedy I get from rap music,” Chappelle says. “Comedy is the void of opinion. It’s all “hem, haw, hootie hoo” and booty jokes. Meanwhile, these rappers are really saying [stuff] and taking serious chances. That’s why, for my show, there’s that hip-hop vibe.”
The 29-year-old, husband and father, who has appeared in such comedies as Half Baked and Undercover Brother admits he’s had a turbulent past with TV executives, but he’s not letting that stand in his way. In fact, Chappelle’s taking the creative license Comedy Central has given him and is running with it.
ESSENCE.com caught up with funnyman Dave Chappelle and talked about his new comedy show, his comedic inspiration and how he unwinds.
Tell us about Chappelle’s Show.
I looked at all the shows my buddies did — Ray Romano [of Everybody Loves Raymond] and all these guys. Their shows reflect their acts perfectly. I have an opinionated act, so there’s not really a sitcom that could contain it. So when thinking about what I wanted to do, I wanted a show that reflected me. It didn’t end up how I planned it initially because imagining something and doing the show are two very completely different things. But, I’ve never been happier with something I’ve done in my career. I mean I write sketches and then perform them on TV. It’s the best job I’ve had in my life. I don’t have to be Urkel [of Family Matters] or any of that crazy stuff [laugh]. I am making this up as I go along.
Do you draw inspiration for your show from personal experiences?
Some of the things I draw comedy from are real painful things. But there’s a certain delight in doing the characters. [For example], the Clayton Bigsby sketch, as foul as it is, it’s real. It’s based on my grandfather. If you saw him you’d think he’s white and the only thing that would let you know he has any black in him is his hair texture. He was born in a white hospital in 1909, which means that his mother was white, not his father. Because there is no way that a black woman could have a baby in white hospital [back then]. So the bottom line is he looks like a white dude. That was an abstract thing to him [because] in his mind he’s a black guy. [Anyway] the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated my grandfather was on the bus. People came up to him and were like ‘what are you doing on the bus.’ He’s like ‘yeah, what are you doing.’ But he had no clue they were talking to him. That’s how I thought of Clayton Bigsby. So when I do these things, it’s not like I am doing them willy-nilly. Life provides all these things.
What is your favorite character from the show?
Tyrone Biggums. He’s the crack head who talks to the kids about drug awareness. And as he talks to the kids, you realize he’s a recovering addict [laugh]. He’s based on a guy that came to talk to my class about drug awareness when I was 12.
Some of your characters, like Tyrone Biggums and Clayton Bigsby, might be considered offensive. Are you afraid of possible backlash?
I am preparing myself for the worst-case scenario. I know my intentions. I am completely at peace. One reason I think I get away with what I do is because it’s not malicious. If anything, it’s the opposite. I either do it because it’s funny or empowering. For example, [with] Barbershop, Jesse Jackson did a lot of hooting and hollering about a movie he hadn’t even seen. I don’t think that scene belittled Civil Rights, and if so what type of shady ground are we standing on? I can go to a white comedy club and tell jokes about race and white people, and they will all laugh. They won’t sit there and be like ‘That’s a damn outrage.’ But with a black person, if you so much as say ‘you like chicken’ they’ll flip out. When the secret is you probably do like chicken. I know I do [laugh]. And, it doesn’t make me less than a person [laugh].
You mentioned you live on a farm, is this your way of taking a break from the “comedic” world?
Oh yeah, sweet, sweet isolation. [laugh] [I thought] of Superman comics — didn’t he have a place in the North Pole where he could go and just chill and not be Clark Kent or Superman for a few hours a day? Before I was married with kids, I bought a farm, so I could chill, step back and make sense of what was going on around me and contemplate what I was seeing. If you are famous at all, you are bombarded with a variety of things. So you have to step back and untangle them and make sense of what’s going on or else you’ll get caught up in the madness.
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