A Comic Quits Quitting

Dave Chappelle, who has kept a low profile since quitting his hit comedy show in 2005, is touring again, with long stories and nods to his unexpected exit.

Comments: 85

  1. At Monterey Pop in 1967, Pete Townsend of the Who was - to say the least - disappointed that his band was scheduled to follow the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Having seen Hendrix in London, a reportedly insecure Townsend thought that after seeing the Seattle born and raised guitarist, who'd want to see him.

    So, after a Hendrix-suggested coin toss, Townsend won and the Who went on first. The Who ended their show with their then customary breaking of instruments, but Hendrix one-upped him when, during "Wild Thing" he set the crowd - and his guitar - on fire.

    Note to Chris Rock: See the movie of the above-referenced festival and note the look on Cass Elliot's face during Hendrix's performance. If you do take Chappelle on tour with you, prepare to set fires; as good as you are, the other guy takes no prisoners.

  2. Great flashback - thanks...

  3. It's about time. Welcome back Dave. We need more laughter in this crazy world.

  4. Glad to see Mr. Chappelle's visibility increasing (again), I think he's one of the funniest and most talented comedians out there. His sketch show was absolutely brilliant, I'd love to see his stand up live at some point.

  5. This is a very ambivalent but respectful review. Is it too scary to say Chappelle is so self-involved & bitter that he is not funny- on a tour sponsiored by Funny or Die ?
    Self-indulgence may be authentic but is not great art for long. Here's hoping Chappelle can turn the corner and become more Lenny Bruce-like if that's what he wants. This requires precision & clarity.

  6. I don't find the article ambivalent, Sara -- just thoughtful.

    And I don't find Chapelle even the least bit bitter -- just reflective, shrewd, self deprecating, graceful, brilliant and wet your pants funny.

  7. Chappelle bitter? Self-indulgent? If that's what you want to call him, fine, but most of us are just relieved he's back. There's no one like him.

    One of my favorite comedy albums of all time is Woody Allen's "Stand-up Comic" which is from the mid-to-late sixties. It's "self-indulgent and bitter"... and thoroughly brilliant.

    Allen and Chappelle actually cover many of the same themes (as comics tend to do...) but the focus on the "long yarn" of story-telling, as opposed to the gag joke, is one thing I love about them both.

    Speaking of commonalities... the "message" joke related here by Chappelle is similar to the "message" joke on that Woody Allen album. I'll let you listen to the album (on vinyl or download!) to see the similarity. Such different styles, but somehow these men are yoked by comic history.

    Anyway, I hope Chappelle is happy... he brought us a lot of meaningful laughs during a difficult time. Lord only knows we need more laughs, this is a really crazy world.

  8. It is not true that Mr. Chappelle has given no interviews. He had an extended interview aired on "Inside the Actors' Studio" including an in depth explanation for his departure from his show and his trip to Africa. Watch it and learn.

  9. Dave Chappelle's story is not so much about "quitting", but about trying to find yourself--and as a black man, both acknowledging the horrible things facing black people (police brutality,drugs) and also how to escape the expectations facing him (black comics have to do stories about crackheads, etc).

    That's why he quit Comedy Central, saying he didn't want to "shuffle." I think he started to realize that the images he was portraying on the show were actually helping to define a negative image of black people in America to the wider culture and he was uncomfortable with that.

    Now he's back, and his comedy, while still rooted in the black experience, uses that as a jumping off point for the more philosophical--but still funny!-stuff he's doing now.

    Welcome back, Dave!

  10. I never saw his comedy as creating a negative image of black people, and more as coping with the pain and indignities that black men like himself have to deal with every day.

    For instance, one of the characters in his "Keepin' it Real Goes Wrong" sketches was a man who had done everything right: He was brilliantly smart, gotten an advanced college degree, worked hard, and moved up in the world. And then in one moment he said what he was really thinking, and lost it all. That's a fear that I suspect many successful black businessman share, that they're one wrong sentence from the ghetto. Sure, Chappelle blew it out of proportion, but good comedians do that.

  11. This is excellent news! Have you checked out the comedy on Comedy Central lately? This new generation pales in comparison to Dave. Welcome back! You were missed.

  12. What can you say but "Welcome Back, Dave".

  13. Aa a long time fan, I applaud the return of Dave Chappelle. When I watched his appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio following his return from Africa, I couldn't help but admire his courage for being true to himself. Still, I've often wondered what turns his comedy would have taken in the Obama years. Chappelle is right up there with the greats like Pryor and Carlin. He has always been and will always be the comedic voice for my generation. Welcome back, Dave! I look forward to seeing you.

  14. Dave, like so many other comedians, are complicated people. I was lucky enough to work with him and he is one of the kindest, smartest men I know. There were those that rode his coat tails and pressured him in ways that were against his nature. It is a shame that he did not have a stronger person protecting him. He did not like the bright light of fame nor the responsibilities that came along with that. He is much happier spending time with his friends and families and telling stories from the stage. I hope he has found his peace. He deserves the best.

  15. Dave Chappelle should take a page from the Louis CK book in terms of carving out autonomy in his television show. Louis has complete autonomy to turn in episodes with zero input from the network. He gets paid much less than if he "shuffled," but there is no question Louis is orchestrating the music and choreographing his own "dance."

    Why doesn't someone suggest this to Dave?

  16. Mr. Spock:

    As to the question posed at the end: you just did. For as you know....only Nixon could go to China.

  17. Welcome back...the greatest comic mind of his generation.

  18. Great article, and excellent news. Not a month has gone by since Dave Chappelle quit his awesome show that I haven't wondered, what he's up to and when will he come back. I've been very worried he was going the way of Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side, who burned out and never returned to cartooning.

    So, thrilled that he's returning, can't wait to catch some stand up, and I hope he restarts his show which was easily on the level of old SNL. Anything this brilliant comedian sets his mind to should be hilarious and thought-provoking.

  19. All hail the return of Clayton Bigsby!

  20. "...and what makes it particularly exciting is how he’s using his hard-earned mystique to make more daring and personal art."

    So telling jokes and doing stand-up is now the equivalent of "making my art" ?

    One wonders the reaction you'd receive if you suggested to George Carlin, or Godfrey Cambridge, or Lenny Bruce that they had been "making art".

    I suspect its exactly this type of "deconstructionist" blather which sent Chappelle running.

    That, and his very significant desire "...to make sure I’m dancing and not shuffling,” -- Which is really not so much a moralistic excuse as it is an understanding and desire to own himself as a person - and not simple become another vapid media start with so-many-thousands of "followers" on Twitter.

  21. I suspect that George Carlin, Godfrey Cambridge, Lenny Bruce, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby et al would modestly acknowledge the artistry that goes into crafting a joke or monologue and presenting it comedically.

    You're also wrong about why Chappelle took his leave.

    Score: two assumptions, two misses.

  22. There is something magical in the greatest comedy, a collective frequency where we all get the mysterious joke of just how insane and horrible it all really is. From there, you've just gotta laugh. Pryor had the magic and so does Dave. Welcome back David Chappelle, we've missed ya. Win, lose or draw, I'll be rooting for you and praying you can keep your decency and humanity intact. The world's gone even more bananas since you left and we just may need to laugh our way to a better tomorrow.

  23. Since Johnathan Winters passed away, Dave is now The Funniest Man in America. Glad to have in back in good form.

  24. Dave Chappelle is a gifted natural. I hope his comeback is a strong one.

  25. He quit over what he considered an over-reaction to a sketch about deconstructing responses to the N-word - a family happens to have it as their surname. When his white co-worker found it too funny, that was too much for him. When a comic who skewers all races - Caucasians the best - loses his sense of humor about race in particular, and who should get to laugh in general, he is no longer a comedian. Just a bitter racialist.

  26. Thanks. I'm surprised that there is so little reference in this article to the exact cause of Chappelle's disappearance: his sudden realization that white people weren't engaging in some complicated postmodern dissection of white stereotypes of blacks, they were laughing at his funny black characters (e.g., the classic Wayne Brady arc).

    I see it as a very poignant story. Although the fact that somebody as perceptive as Chappelle could fall for this kind of white rationalization for so long just shows pervasive and mind-clogging is white liberal cant.

  27. "And when I leave, come together like butt-cheeks." Grits and Gravy, Kansas City, Missouri.

  28. The guy is just flat out funny. I laugh every time I see him.
    But all comedians are somewhat tormented souls. I hope that he can come to terms with his struggles, but still keep us laughing.
    Tough line to walk, eh?

  29. Zinoman's article is living proof that analyzing comedy is the worst kind of dissection. I honor Chappelle and I don't need a half-baked analysis from someone who comes off like a groupie to 'splain it to me.
    Dave, if you are out there pay no attention. Just know you are alright with us and do what you need to do. May the bop be with you.

  30. This article makes me really, really want to see Chappelle at work again.

  31. There's no overreach in interpreting Chappelle. The man's mind is relentless. The asides, the qualifications, the apologies, the stammers...every note he plays is part of the tapestry.

  32. I have missed Chapelle so much, and hearing that he's working through the challenges of his recent years productively is such an inspiration. I can't wait to watch him again.

  33. We love Dave Chapelle.

  34. Tortured, genius minds are pictures into our souls and what better way than through his unique story-telling. Dave Chappelle can write his own ticket to further fame or not. He is a joy to see and be entertained by.

  35. My husband and I travelled to Montreal for the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and were lucky enough to catch one of Dave's shows. The author here is quite accurate in his description, Dave was a little darker, more introspective and freely admitted that $50 million was a heck of a lot of money to give up. He is still an amazingly gifted comedian with a spot on wit and a brain that moves at the speed of light. His audience interaction was hilarious and some of the best moments. It was the highlight of my comedy journey so far!

  36. Funniest comedian I have ever seen/watched. His Black KKK guy skit is outrageous -- says it all about race relations in America.

  37. I can never hear the name Dave Chappelle without thinking of the name "Clayton Bigsby".

    Truly one of the funniest things ever on television.

  38. in the late 1990s, dave chappelle was filming "half baked" in the west village where i worked at the time. i was lucky enough to not only run into him but speak to him two times and he is the nicest guy. ever.

    i already loved him then (which i spazzingly told him both times) but the way he treated me, the kindness and the warmth he showed me is something that has never left me: i am a fan for life. welcome back, dearest dave! we've missed you, you're amazing, we love you and we're psyched!

  39. If you missed the Dave Chappelle & Maya Angelou Iconoclast episode it is definitely worth catching- able to see Dave in a relaxed setting. Glad to hear Dave is back performing- fresh air.

  40. After reading the article, though having heard his name many times , I was thinking how I did not know his work. It hit me that for a dozen years or so comedy , pure comedy , of any sort had not been part of my life....
    It then hit me that it must be unhealthy to not let comedy into my life , ( there have been moments of hiliarity, tragic comedy , and self deprecating humour, )
    But these were more the result of some experience , not comedy or seeking out laughter for laughters sake.
    Glad I read about his work , perhaps more people who realize how important it is to let comedy into ones life for enjoyment and to make our ways thru a world , nation , whatever , that is increasingly devoid of humour , except of the very darkest type , will make a point to seek it out.
    Laughter at comedy for comedies sake is very different than the chuckles of sardonic humour people can not seem to avoid in an increasingly grim world.
    Thanks for the article. Hoping to tune in to the mans work. Could be one way to remain free in world seemingly intent on robbing us or preventing others from being free.

  41. the sad thing, my friends, is that many people think he went stark, raving mad. he walked away from the machine, and all of its trappings, and decided to dance to his own music.

    i, for one, will always applaud that kind of strength..

    welcome back, dave! you have been missed.

  42. Chappelle is a comic genius who rivals the great Richard Pryor... Glad to see him back on the circuit...

  43. I loved the Chappelle Show , but read this well written article looking for the reason he pulled the plug on his career and a simple opinion on whether he is still as funny as before. Well having none of that answered ( perhaps the Writer's description was too complex ) at least I learned about the Actors Studio appearance I will now head to YT for .

    Comparisons to Pryor I think border on blasphemy , and I found In Living Color far funnier and more creative than Dave's show while introducing a number of talents at least as funny as Dave .

  44. Thanks for this article. I didn't even know he was touring. Just bought tickets!

  45. The next time I'm trying to explain to someone what I think a good critic does - elevate the artist - I'm going to show them this piece.

  46. Chappelle's skit of (supposedly) how white passengers on a bus behave once the last black rider gets off is a true comedy classic!

  47. Are you confusing him with Eddie Murphy? B/c what you are describing sounds like an old Eddie Murphy SNL skit and not Dave Chappelle (although it is the same kind of humor).

  48. I love Richard Pryor. And I respect Dave Chappelle.

    I think Dave still has a lot to give, but he needs to neutralize his worry that people won't like him. He needs to be himself regardless.

    It doesn't matter how a white stage hand laughs. Let him be derisive, sardonic, or whatever he wants. You are still Dave Chappelle.

  49. I just like to laugh; and Chapelle is a most singular comedic talent, and obviously still growing.Truly cannot wait to see him, somehow.I love to laugh.


  50. Hey Dave, funniest person in America, you have been missed so much! Welcome back!

  51. Dave is much better than Pryor or Carlin. Dave, I hope you read these. Your art makes me feel like I've received something, and I appreciate it.

  52. nobody is "better" than Carlin. Period.

  53. I have never laughed as hard as I did when I caught Dave Chappelle doing stand-up on TV, probably HBO, many years ago. It's the only stand-up show I have watched more than once. His impression of "white people" was absolutely hilarious and, even then, you could catch glimpses of the deeper truths in his comedy. He is the best kind of comedian - he can poke fun at you and make you feel like it's okay to laugh at yourself. PLEASE COME TO NORTH CAROLINA SOON DAVE CHAPPELLE!

  54. Chappelles Show on Comedy Central.. As funny as anything or anyone out there.

  55. Dave Chappelle is a genius. Thank you for this article. Only because I saw this am I now the very happy owner of two tickets for his upcoming tour.
    Not at all surprised that the immensely talented 'Flight of the Concords' are with him. Anyone watching HBO knows the great talent there.

    See, Chappelle is not only outstanding in his field.
    He has the good taste to connect with those NZ joys.

  56. Like millions of others, I have missed Dave greatly since he gave up his show. I am happy to receive whatever comic crumbs he throws our way. His ability to make people laugh is a true gift, and he deserves to do it in whatever manner makes him feel good.

  57. This article validates what I've always thought of Dave Chappelle - he is a great story teller as well as comedian. I saw him years ago at the Warner Theater in DC. It's a big room but he had the audience utterly in his hands. He would go many minutes without a joke while keeping the audience transfixed. Like all good stories, his were meaningful, with morals and lessons that everyone could relate to. Thankfully, he was also profane, stupid and silly which provided the excuse to laugh amid the darkness and depth of his stories.

  58. Dave Chappelle is an incredibly smart and talented man. I have no doubt that he will be studied by future historians as a leading cultural figure of our age, as well by psychologists trying to understand our current culture of fame worship and technologically based madness.

    I'll wait for however long it takes him to share his genius with the rest of us.

  59. LOVE Dave Chappelle, and his intelligent, humanity-informed humor.

    Most awesome!

    His interview with Lipton was beautiful.

    As a culture, we NEED Dave Chappelle.

    Go get 'em Dave.

  60. One of the few great public people of our era, Dave Chapelle faced the Hollywood demons early in his career in ways that impress the common man. You can tell he's "one of us" as a real person and someone who cares more about faithfulness to oneself than to an industry that dwells in the superficial world of ego and in the endless pursuit of wealth and glory. Dave, we miss you, but whatever works for you works for us.

  61. This is a very well-written article. Very absorbing.

    My favorite comedians growing up were George Carlin and Richard Pryor. I was just getting into Dave Chappelle, via my son, when Chappelle quit. It's exciting that he's making his way back. I've never liked the zinger observational comedy. Chappelle's literary approach, as the writer calls it, is much more appealing to me. It sounds as if Chappelle has only deepened his art while he was away.

  62. I could have written the first two sentences of your post, describing my own life precisely. This includes a son of mine introducing me to Chappelle for the first time, after we talked about Pryor.

    I agree. The "literary approach" marks the great ones, and the better the material and the delivery reflects the kind of lives we experience, the more profound is the experience when seeing a Pryor or Chappelle or Carlin, performing at their best.

    When I first saw Pryor, both after but also, importantly, BEFORE the fire that almost consumed him, I had that clear sense that I was seeing a rare artist at work....it was impossible to deny the sheer power of his observations, whether it was the persona of the pipe after the fire in his astonishing comeback, or the voice in earlier work of the 'guard dogs' next door that tormented him. The dogs finally cut Mr. Pryor a little break in daily warfare, out of sympathy, and in the story they "speak" to him...almost kindly, before reminding him (and us), sorrowfully, as they go...."...now you know, Rich, tomorrow we're gonna have to eat ya".
    Exactly.

    Genius seems to find a way, through hard obsessive work, in refinement that is forged through some crucible of experience, all the contradictions, conflicting feelings, confused feelings, cynicism hope love faith and faithfulness, to name but a few...it takes all those things that rattle around in us, and finds a way to redeem it, making it matter, by ultimately making it human.

  63. If he hasn't done interviews or talk shows, what was he doing with James Lipton in 2008? Great comedian. Wish him the best.

  64. It's that delivery and timing. It's rrrrrrrrright on time!

  65. Dave is dealing with some''issues''and the less "drama" resulting in their remedy,the less "stressing" he'll have to endure.The young man seems fairly(very) sophisticated and cosmopolitan in his assessment of his situation.One detects demons still to conquer however and the "comeback" will stand on his manuverabilty in these encounters.

  66. Is this article about Chappelle or about the writer? Too much of the writer and his worldview of Chappelle. Please--write about your subject and not yourself.

  67. Why?

  68. It's a sign of sanity that he was overwhelmed by Hollywood and all that out of scale fame and wealth. That lifestyle is insane and out of balance....to run away from that was a survival instinct. It's a measure of our culture's decay that embracing all of that is considered successful no matter the cost to your self.

  69. It's good to see Chappelle returning and the time away seems to have reacquainted Dave with Dave. When a human being becomes a piece of art well they have become glorious.

  70. I wasn't a huge fan of his, but his bit about the blind racist was hysterical. All the best for his comeback!

  71. Dave - Thank You for your demonstration of what Personal Freedom really is.

  72. I'm OK with Dave Chappelle not choosing the straight and narrow path to success. His crooked journey through life can only add depth and texture to his comedic art.

    Add me to the Welcome Back Dave! chorus. I'm willing to follow where you decide to lead us next.

  73. Sirs,
    Richard Prior later admitted that he actually had set himself on fire. He had challenged God to really love him and save him. He bitterly regretted it afterwards of course, saying it was stupid to do. But, he eventually told the truth about it. He said that we would expect for him to catch himself on fire, spoking a pipe, and it was less embarrassing to admit the one over the other.

  74. Dave Chapelle must have had to have a lot of courage to comeback like that after a decade. He is an amazing man to leave to africa for ten years and to come back still having talent. Though its not surprising that he changed his style after a trip to africa and ten years.

  75. Journalism 101: his age is?

  76. Ask the Internet

  77. Glad he knew when to close the door when the industry was pounding on it. I like Dave he's a great comedian.

  78. Mr. Chappelle doesn't need to be quantified, fellow posters.
    Nor does he need to "rival" anyone else's talents.
    It is plenty good enough that he simply is Dave Chappelle.

  79. My son in Ohio knows Chappelle personally and told me that he is such a down to earth guy, that you wouldn't know he was a celebrity.

  80. This is true. I lived in Yellow Springs for a few years and saw Dave many many times. He's a nice guy and will talk with just about anyone that walks up to him on the street. About the only thing he doesn't do is sign autographs in town. And I don't blame him a bit.

  81. Chappelle...Chappelle!
    Come back, Chappelle!

  82. Dave Chappelle is a great storyteller...He warmed up and then got going in a series of 10 shows at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, in July. Great to see you Dave, all the best!

  83. look, I want to see the show in nyc; and I am not travelling 50 miles to holmdel

  84. Love the guy. A great comedian, very intelligent and sarcastic. Lays bare the hypocrisy of our world.

    It's really no big deal that he left. I mean, I would love to have heard more material from him, but there is no "society" with whom he is required to share his gift. He did what he needed to, good or bad, its none of our business - maybe it would be if he was harming people, but there really was no moral element to his actions - he was just searching for himself and meaning in life, like we all do in one way or another.

    I really look forward to hearing his show.

  85. It took the absolute humanitarian comic genius that is Dave Chappelle to come up with a blind, black white supremacist. No doubt well deserved to be named in the same ether as Carlin and Pryor. I look forward to many years of the introspective joy his humor invokes. Bless you Dave