Criticizing Sesame Street, claiming Snuffeluphagus is a crack addict and demanding that Oscar get out of his trash can and “get a job, grouch”; discovering that, according to some, he is “genetically predisposed to liking chicken”; and forever adventuring while high, Dave Chappelle is, seemingly, a jack of all trades.
He has expressed his expertise over these areas and many others on HBO, but now he has been given the chance to be heard “on regular-ass TV.”
At 11:30 each Wednesday night “Chappelle’s Show” airs on Comedy Central. The show, a mix of sketch comedy, stand-up and musical guests is pushing network sketch comedy to a new, more provocative level of hilarity.
“There’s nothing on the show that I don’t want,” said Chappelle, who writes and produces the show along with his partner in comedy since starring in “Half Baked,” Neil Brennan. “The type of jokes we use are not on any other show.”
His move from stand-up to TV has allowed Chappelle to live out his visions such as, playing a crack-head teaching young children drug awareness and being a blind man leading the KKK, but unaware of his own ethnicity. However, his TV work has also provided Chappelle with a challenge to match his imagination.
“Doing a half-hour show in itself, that shit is murder,” Chappelle said, explaining the huge amount of work that he, as writer and producer, puts into a single show. “With TV, there’s a lot more that goes into it, just in its overall size and responsibility that goes along with the job.”
Chappelle’s skewed, even controversial perspectives on life have grown out of their stand-up origins and have translated into the driving force of his defiant, dangerous and nonetheless funny show.
“TV, in general, is a much more corporate life than stand-up,” said Chappelle, whose show has injected satire into topics ranging from racism to drugs to car commercials. “But, my show is as close to stand-up as you can get in show biz.”
Beyond the controversial topics on his show, which he portrays with the same raw, frankness that he does in his stand-up acts, Chappelle has pushed TV language barriers possibly even farther with his, almost natural use of the “n-word.”
“The n-word mans a lot to a lot of people, I’m from an era where it doesn’t have the negative connotations it does if it is heard by someone in my mom’s generation,” said Chappelle, citing his show’s target audience, people of his generation, to understand the different connotations in usage of the “n-word.”
Besides its blunt language, “Chappelle’s Show” twists the context of many heavy-hitting social issues, which, like in his stand up routines, works to break the anxiety and political correctness restricting any usual or comfortable dialogue over such issues.
“The more anxious something makes you feel, the more relief you get from laughing,” Chappelle said.
Chappelle, while not marginalizing the importance of the issues, is a comedian first, and one that works to make people more comfortable with serious issues and to ease the discomfort surrounding them.
“I don’t do the show just for social commentary,” Chapelle said. “Making it funny is the first priority.”
Of course, that is not to say that he keeps his opinions reserved.
“When I do some sketches, I am putting my opinion out there,” said Chappelle, who believes in giving younger people a voice, even if that means through comedic sarcasm. “One reason I put opinions out there is that young people need to be recognized, they are a lot better than they get credit for.”
At the heart of Chappelle’s comedy, however controversial it may be, is its concrete simplicity. It must be reiterated, funny is his first priority. It is in his parsimony that Chappelle is so funny, and it is in this same, frank way that he explains how he began comedy.
“I did stand-up and I like it because it is something I am good at,” said Chappelle, who explains that his job is almost natural for him, he had no miraculous epiphany leading him to where he is, he’s just funny.
Chappelle, who often uses his hometown origins as the butt of his jokes, is a product of Washington D.C. “back when crack was goin’ on.” The son of a Unitarian minister, Chappelle said his parents figured that there were a lot of things that he could be doing (like crack) that were much worse than comedy.
“They were supportive, but scared to death,” said Chappelle, explaining that his frank and often-dangerous comedy often has been faced with parental disapproval. Starting his stand-up career at 14, Chappelle’s mother would attend his shows to keep an eye on her son who was not yet old enough to get into the clubs where he would perform.
At age 21, as his career began to escalate after his role with Eddie Murphy in “The Nutty Professor” in 1996, Chappelle said to a Los Angeles Times reporter, “My mother doesn’t have to come along any more. I can finally start meeting women after shows.”
Now, at age 30, Chappelle has grown into a successful comedian and his work has led him to be one of today’s most popular up-and-coming comedians. His honest and up-front style, leading him to be a self-proclaimed “racism connoisseur” stands out distinctly in today’s market of comedians, many of whom, according to Chappelle, “just go for the big deals and write comedy to make a show around.”
Quite the opposite, on “Chappelle’s Show” the comedy comes first making his show, certainly more provocative than many, but also more versatile and unpredictable.
His distinctive, refreshing style comes as a result of his mentor. Chappelle learned his trade from a poor street comedian from Washington D.C., Charles Barnett who, before dying from AIDS, never sought fame, only laughs.
“You have to go from your heart,” said Chappelle in the voice of a student reverberating a thoroughly learned lesson.