Dave Chappelle Returns to Comedy Circuit
By Kyle Eustice
When comedian/actor Dave Chappelle waltzed on to the screen dressed as Prince for a game of basketball with fellow comedian Charlie Murphy, it was impossible to contain the eruption of laughter that followed that visual. Chappelle is no doubt one of the best comedians of our generation, however, he remains an enigmatic story.
Comedy Central picked up the Chappelle Show in 2003, but one day he suddenly walked off the set at the height of the show’s success. In a recent interview with David Letterman, Chappelle was asked why he fled to South Africa shortly after leaving the show to which he replied, “There’s not too many hiding places left in America.” Although funny, this answer begs even more questions. Why was he hiding? What was the most successful comedian at the time running away from?
In a June 2014 interview with Oprah Winfrey, he managed to open up just enough to shine some light onto what may have been happening at the time. The rumor mill was spitting out reasons like drug problems, writer’s block or spiritual crisis, but really it was none of those things. He was just tired of it; tired of the fame and tired of the stress it brought along with it. So Chappelle said he left the show, months after signing a $50 million deal for its third and fourth seasons, because he felt manipulated by the people around him.
“I felt in a lot of instances I was deliberately being put through stress,” he told Winfrey. “When you’re a guy who generates money, people have a vested interest in controlling you.”
His departure left everyone scratching their heads, including the staff at Comedy Central. He took off for South Africa for two weeks and returned to his home in not Los Angeles, not New York City, but Ohio, where he vanished from public life.
“I wasn’t walking away from the money, I was walking away from the circumstances,” he said. “I was feeling overwhelmed, and some of it felt like as if this was happening deliberately.”
With this all behind him, Chappelle is back doing his stand-up routines. After his self-imposed hiatus from the entertainment industry, it seems he is in a better place. He recently had nine shows at Radio City Music Hall, which was his first big run in nearly a decade. A self-described music junkie, he routinely has hip-hop artists join him for every show, including The Roots, Erykah Badu and Dead Prez, making them that much more exciting. There’s no indication, however, that he will ever return to television. In an interview with a CBS affiliate in Minnesota, he was naturally giving the interviewer a hard time.
“Well, I’m here now. And yes, I’m in talks for a new television show,” he told the interviewer. “That’s a lie. No. I’m not going to say that I’m never going to do it because then I’d probably have to do it. And I’m not going to say I’m gonna do it because then for some reason, I probably couldn’t. I don’t know why but you’re never supposed to say what your intentions are.”
Chappelle’s situation goes to show that no matter how much money or fame someone has, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically happy. It’s also a story of triumph over adversity. Although he was having personal issues, he persevered and can now move forward with his career in a way that makes him comfortable. He certainly knows when he’s uncomfortable. At a Hartford, Connecticut show, Chappelle walked off the stage due to heckling from the crowd that lasted throughout his entire attempt at a performance. The heckling was so raucous that it drowned out Chappelle’s voice over the PA system and included chants of “White Power,” which was a line used in a Chappelle’s Show episode that was viewed as wildly inappropriate and out-of-context by other audience members who later wrote about the event. Whatever Chappelle decides to do next, it will undoubtedly be on his terms. For now, he can focus on his stand-up and his current comedy tour. While six out of the eight Lincoln shows he’s doing are sold-out, there are still tickets available for the 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. shows on Wednesday, October 22.
Dave Chappelle, October 19-22, at Rocco Theatre, Lincoln, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $55. Visit www.roccotheatre.com for more information.