King Chappelle is back
7/3/2014, 2:08 p.m.
You know all the cliches: “All money ain’t good money,” “Make the money, don’t let the money make you,” “Money is the root of all evil,” etc., and in theory, they sound righteous. But if an opportunity to make some real dough is placed at your feet, will any of those phrases enter the equation? It is all about the Benjamins, right? If so, someone forgot to CC Dave Chappelle on that memo.
We’ve all heard variations of his story, so here’s an abridged version. By the age of 19, Chappelle was already a five-year veteran of the stand-up comedy circuit. While he wasn’t at the level of being a household name just yet, he had still managed to grace the stages of the Apollo Theater, where he was unceremoniously booed off stage, and Radio City Music Hall, where he was the opening act for the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin. He had minor roles in flicks like “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” “The Nutty Professor” and “Blue Streak” in the ‘90s and was the lead in the cult smash “Half Baked,” but no one really had Chappelle pegged as a future cultural icon.
That changed in 2003 when Comedy Central debuted the sketch comedy series “Chappelle’s Show.” No stone was left unturned when it came to life in America as he hilariously parodied the political and racial climate of what the country was about. For two seasons, Chappelle ran roughshod in the game. His original characters of Silky Johnson, Tron Carter, Chuck Taylor, Tyrone Biggums and Clayton Bigsby made him a household name, and his impersonations of Lil Jon, Prince and Rick James propelled him to the category of genius. So popular was the show that upon the release of season one on DVD, the show became the highest selling DVD set ever at 3 million. (Season two netted 500,000 sales in one day and 1.2 million in its first week.)
As he proved that he was not just a popular view but someone who could make the cash registers ring, the network was forced to break bread. A deal was offered in excess of $50 million for two more seasons. In the middle of production of season three, it was all over. Chappelle bounced and left the loot on the table. That’s when we saw the industry at its finest.
Drugs and mental instability had to have been at the core of his departure. To augment that argument, his trip to Africa was cited as proof positive that he had a problem.
It’s funny how the words of a former commander-in-chief, Franklin D. Roosevelt, were never considered. Said Roosevelt, “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
Chappelle was quoted more than once as saying that he had become a commodity. More writers were added to the staff, more executives on the set and much more pressure was being applied on him to perform. Changes were in the air. A tipping point for Chappelle was when he was in the middle of a particular skit and he felt that a new staffer was laughing too loud for too long. After taking a brief inner look at his career, he determined that he was being laughed at instead of laughed with. In his mind, he had become a potential plague, just like the caricature he poked fun at. In that moment of clarity, he took his ball and went home.
On the low, he still plied his craft onstage with his stand-up act over the years. And perhaps the payoff was revealed last week, when Chappelle set up shop at Radio City Music Hall. I bagged a ticket when the first three shows were announced for June 18-20. Since then, nine more performances were added, making it an astonishing 10 consecutive sold-out shows.
The shows became amped up in intensity when it was announced that hip-hop acts would be given the spotlight. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” for four select shows, Chappelle merged his stand-up comedy routine with appearance by different musical guests each night. In order of appearances was Nas, the Roots, Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monae and DJ Premier and Erykah Badu. Kanye West made a surprise appearance on the show last Friday. Each announced musical guest was accompanied with a full orchestra. The run ended on June 27. Hope you got to see it!
I just got back from Cali after the BET Live weekend. Holla next week to find out how it unfolded. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.