I’d like to start off by saying, Dave Chappelle started it.
He came for Key and Peele and he continues to do it in interviews and in his recent comedy special on Netflix. Now either it’s healthy professional jealousy, i.e. Chappelle and Kevin Hart, or it’s coming from a real place.
I think it’s the latter.
However, I’d also like to say, I have been a huge Dave Chappelle fan over the years. So much so, in my college newspaper office, I delightfully annoyed everyone around me quoting from various sketches from his wildly popular “Chappelle Show.” I was depressed when he said no to what would be a wack ass final season that Comedy Central threw together without him. I purchased all seasons of the show, including the wack ass last season, and I’ve only done that for one other series, “Sex and the City.” I was so annoyed with “Girlfriends” work- out-the-kinks season one, I never purchased it. I may go back and complete the set because I adore Tracee Ellis Ross.
Anyway, the point of this post is, these days, I’m conflicted about Dave Chappelle, who he was, who he is now and who I am when I first enjoyed his comedy as a college student, to where I am now, at 35, in a post-Obama, Trumptonian world.
A lot has changed.
In today’s woke world, these are murky, fickle times for a black artist. While political anti-Trump satirists are killing it, folks are arguing since Chappelle’s latest stand up on Netflix (Chappelle ain’t so antiquated to see the coins in streaming), he’s behind the times. He hasn’t grown. Folks weren’t particularly thrilled with his jokes about rape, transgendered people and the LGBT community. And during those moments, I cringed too. Even his jokes about race– where Chappelle originally created a lane of his own, they just didn’t have the same punch. Some say he phoned it in. Some critics from GQ argued that he came out there like a rich guy in his 40s who lives in Ohio, which is exactly what Dave is. Some argued his performance was just want America needed right now, no political correctness, tell it like it is. But it seems like the folks who love the no-holds-barred, say whatever you want brand of comedy are typically white, male, are heterosexual, and able-bodied. No one is saying Dave should become Sinbad (known for a successful clean comedy career), but I wonder. I expected to laugh the way I did as a college student, while watching the special and I was disappointed that I didn’t. Who changed? Him, or me?
It was probably me.
I had the biggest laughs in the first show of two about millennials and about him taking his son to a Kevin Hart show and being a hater about it.
Which brings me to Key and Peele. They were certainly beneficiaries that filled the void post Chappelle, but brought a different, awkward spin on not only racial comedy but pop culture. My favorite skit was about absurd names of athletes during introductions of televised sporting events. But, they were a mirror of the times– here are two bi-racial comedians commenting on the world, pointing out things from their point of view. They were younger, and as Chappelle was to me in college, they had an audience too (current statistics say there are 9 million people who identify as bi-racial in the US not saying all of them watched the show, but just saying the racial and cultural make up of the world is changing and will continue. The browning of the world, and climate change is real, folks). We had a bi-racial commander-in-chief. America collectively thought we were one big happy family. When it came to dealing with race in comedy, Chappelle brought it in a clever, honest way, during a Bush administration we are affectionately remembering these days. Bush the second is mild by today’s standards. He was Tupac, while Key and Peele may have been more like an MC Hammer or a Will Smith. It’s still rap. But it’s happy rap.
It appears that Chappelle was still smarting over the fact that the longer format for sketches was something he had to fight for while Key and Peele were able to do it effortlessly and make it the cornerstone of their show. He even said so during an interview. But instead of being salty that they took the format and ran with it, I think Dave should take comfort in the fact that sometimes, Key and Peele’s skits were too long and they drained the juice out of it. They may have expanded on Chappelle’s format, but they didn’t necessarily elevate it. Your legacy is still in tact, Dave. Chappelle’s long sketches were solid from beginning to end and never ran out of steam.
But doesn’t this happen to all trailblazers? You fight to make it easier for the folks coming behind you. It just is what it is. Charge it to the game.
I’ve been thinking though.
Moreso about Jordan Peele than Keegan Kay. Peele came out of nowhere and hit us over the head with “Get Out” a new modern, American classic horror film. It was a huge hit and a cultural phenomoneon. Peele took it to another level. Peele made an excellent movie that was both for and not for the white gaze, which makes it even more brilliant.
Chappelle always said white frat boys were the ones who packed his shows and remembered him from the immature, weeded out cult classics like “Halfbaked” or “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” It seemed black folks came along once Chappelle really started heating up on his own show.
So, is it just that simple? Chappelle performs for his core? As a black artist, once black people start liking you en masse, do you have to perform a certain way? Do you need to tailor your content? Who are you really performing for?
I’ll say it, for a lot of Black folks, they’d say they found Key and Peele corny, save for a few skits. So, wouldn’t Chappelle, Key and Peele have more in common than meets the eye? All three were cool black dudes to white folks. Can’t we all just get along and get this money?
In my mind, Peele is winning in today’s times moreso than Chappelle. That’s just clear through the heavy critiques circulating about Chappelle’s specials. In today’s times, it’s to be expected. Social media and the saturation of blogs gives everyone a seat to critique and thinkpiece til their heart’s content, and someone, somewhere will agree or disagree. But it’s unfair, Peele has moved in a completely different direction, movie-making. And while I still break out Dave’s musical documentary “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” right up there with “Wattstax” still totally different balls of wax, different genres, different goals.
I think both movies were total labors of love for each, but Peele came for everyone’s necks. I think “Get Out” was Jordan Peele’s Beyoncé Black Ass Superbowl performance where she introduced “Formation.” No one was ready. Black folks were giddy, white folks were confused. But like Beyoncé, Peele’s film was filled with intelligent references and nods to several issues.
So all in all, my final assessment is my feelings for Dave Chappelle are similar to that of exes I cared about when I was younger. It worked then, we had a good time. I have fond memories and I wish you well, but I don’t really fuck with you like that no more.
Dave Chappelle don’t need me anyway. He’s good. LOL. This was another interesting article asking if we are overdoing it on analyzing Dave Chappelle and making the argument that, what we see and what we’ve been seeing exactly what we get. The culture has shifted.