Dear members of the mainstream media, gossip sites and bloggers,
Your coverage of Dave Chappelle's comedy "comeback" has grown beyond wearisome and expanded into outright ignorance.
Sure, Chappelle had a rough gig Friday night as the closing act of a charity event that had included seven acts over two hours before he even walked onstage at the Seminole Hard Rock -- and then he chose to abandon his act when audience members up front heckled him and videotaped him (photo by DJ Irie, who played him offstage almost an hour later). And yes, Chappelle returned to Alonzo Mourning's Summer Groove gala the next night to make up for it.
But everyone seems to be missing the point.
For one thing, don't call it a comeback.
Because Dave Chappelle never left comedy. He left Comedy Central.
Finally TMZ.com has some hard-hitting news coverage regarding comedian Dave Chappelle, as they spotted him walking around New York City this past weekend in a sleeveless shirt. By hard hitting, of course, I meant that Chappelle has been hitting the gym hard. Take a look!
Only he's not all that happy about it. Is it the muscles that stopped him from smiling? Or is it the backpack? It could just be the smells of NYC in the summertime.
Dave Chappelle hasn't made another TV series since leaving Comedy Central behind five years ago, nor has he starred in a big-screen movie recently. So he must have disappeared, according to CNN, which devoted a "Where Are They Now?" segment to Chappelle this week.
Where is he now? If CNN simply Googled him, the cable news network would have known that Chappelle and his family celebrated the holidays in Miami, he still lives in rural Ohio, and that he is performing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City whenever the urge to perform compels him. But that's not a sexy answer, is it? That's not going to keep you tuned in after the commercial break, is it?
Here's how CNN played it:
My friends over at Caroline's have been unearthing some old clips from their 1990s series on A&E, Caroline's Comedy Hour, and the treasure chest already includes footage of Dave Chappelle, Margaret Cho and Lewis Black at a younger age. Remember when comedy boomed before and busted? Remember when audience members still dressed up to be on TV, too?
Before you see any of the people I mentioned in the headline, here's something to make your head spin. It's the opening to a 1990 episode, hosted by Colin Quinn, and featuring his writing staff: Jon Stewart, Susie Essman, Dave Attell and Louis CK. Yeah. So here's that!
Here is Dave Chappelle talking about the time his brother talked him into experiencing the inside of a drying machine.
If you're missing Margaret Cho since she left Dancing with the Stars, just think about how she felt about being on TV back in 1992. Much different time. So fewer tattoos. Roll it!
Based on the book "Black Comedians on Black Comedy" by Darryl Littleton, Robert Townsend's documentary Why We Laugh debuted at Sundance in 2009 and just came out on DVD this week. Before you get to the documentary, however, you see six separate trailers for stand-up comedy specials, each one touting it was the event of the year. Sure, Codeblack Entertainment is responsible for them as well as this documentary, but the sales pitch leads to a misdirect when the main feature plays, and you hear the voiceover narration from Angela Bassett, footage of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and commentary from former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume and former Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy -- you know this isn't going to be a joyride.
Instead, the documentary uses cultural critics and comedians alike to tell the story of black Americans, and how they have used humor throughout the past century as a way to rise above their pain and oppression. Here's the extended trailer:
The path is traced from minstrels and blackface, to early stars such as Bert Williams and Lincoln Perry (better known as Stepin Fetchit), who made far different career choices with implications for generations to follow. You see how Nipsey Russell was a star at the Apollo long before he held a regular seat on Match Game in the 1970s, and how Amos 'n' Andy both helped and hurt the cause of black comedians. The careers of Moms Mably, Redd Foxx and Dick Gregory are examined, then the sitcoms of the 1970s (Good Times, The Jeffersons), Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, through Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, a too-short segment on the start of a separate black club circuit and Robin Harris, In Living Color, Def Comedy Jam, the Kings of Comedy and Dave Chappelle.
Most everyone interviewed continues to express awe and admiration for what Pryor accomplished. Princeton professor/author Dr. Cornel West called Pryor "the freest black man America's ever had. He is not just a genius, he exercises parrhesia. He exercises the most plain, frank, honest, unintimidated speech we had in the 60s, even more than Martin and Malcolm!" That's followed up by Townsend himself, who adds: "He gave to the world a gift, you know, like none other, that opened the playing field. And the only thing that I hate now is that, a lot of comedians, the only thing they took from Richard was the cursing. They didn't take his social commentary."
|Dave Chappelle at Pioneer Square|
February is wrapping up with some interesting and curious comedy items to relay from around the Internets. To wit:
-- Dave Chappelle performed a four-hour set earlier this morning (as in late last night) at the Comic Strip Live in New York City, and comedian/employee Adam Cozens took advantage of being bumped to take some photomographs. Cozens said only 17 of the 60 audience members managed to stay for the full show. But could they, or Chappelle, do 50 hours at the Strip? (Earlier: The world record 50-hour marathon show at the Strip)
-- Coincidentally, at the same time Chappelle was doing a surprise set at the Strip, Chris Rock stopped in for an unannounced set at the Comedy Cellar in the Village. Less coincidental, perhaps, the model who has been engaged in a decade-long lawsuit against Rock had her files unsealed (Los Angeles Times).
-- Comedy Central Insider has compiled a list of 100 funny Twitter feeds to follow. I am on it. Follow me @thecomicscomic.
-- Among the new Twitter members this week: Dane Cook and Louis CK. A clip of Louis CK on Conan from October apparently has gotten some renewed mileage on YouTube this week. Why? Because it's funny. That's why. Louis CK also reported via Twitter that he has postponed taping his new DVD (was planned for March 14 in Boston -- show will go on, but without big cameras). Dane Cook, meanwhile, ranked among the biggest concerts in the world among all acts (music, comedy, whatnots) in January, selling out the 19,092-seat St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 31. That show grossed $1.2 million with a top ticket price of $102.75 (before service charges?). So if you thought the Dane Train was slowing down, think again.
-- Boston comedy correspondent Nick A. Zaino has a new interview with The Whitest Kids U Know, which is good and timely, because the group began as a live sketch show, has moved to TV and IFC, and is currently on a nationwide comedy club tour performing live again (and also a feature film starring two of them!).
When I heard that Dave Chappelle was taping another episode of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio earlier this year, I wondered why, because Chappelle seemingly had covered everything you'd want to know and ask of him already on the program. Turns out Chappelle isn't the guest, but rather the special guest host for the 200th episode, which airs Monday. Chappelle will be hilarious; James Lipton will be creepy -- SPOILER ALERT! And there shall be words:
If you had the chance to get out late on a Monday night in New York City, and had the chance to see Irishman David O'Doherty, the big winner of the If.Comedy Award at this summer's Edinburgh Fringe, do a jet-lagged 40-minute set for free at the UCB Theatre, or pay $10 and order two items at the Comedy Cellar and get treated to an unannounced performance of close to two hours by Dave Chappelle, would you have gone out, and which show would you have picked? This was neither a hypothetical nor a rhetorical question.
New online journalism publication The Daily Beast offers a look back at how various comedians viewed a black presidency, with (language NSFW) voting tips from Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock, and alternate-universe views of a black president featuring Dave Chappelle and Richard Pryor. Enjoy.
King Magazine publishes a brief, and already somewhat old oral history of Chappelle's Show. And by old, I mean it sounds as though these interviews happened years ago.
The New York Times profiles B.J. Novak, who has seen his career rise as a writer/performer on The Office, which starts its fifth season on Thursday.
Jeffrey Ross was the first contestant eliminated on this season's Dancing With the Stars. You're welcome?
Just watched a rebroadcast of HBO's 1995 Young Comedians Show (it'll also air at 10 p.m. Pacific tonight), hosted by Garry Shandling from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and featuring a cast of, would you believe, Dave Attell, Eric Tunney, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Clark and Louis CK. Quite a lineup, eh? We know it's 1995 because Shandling jokes about the O.J. Simpson trial and Lorena Bobbitt.
First up, Dave Attell, and we see some now-classic Attell jokes, such as his take on porn ("whatever a man, a woman, another woman with a penis and a midget do..."), how women have all the power "because women have all the vaginas," why men cannot breast-feed, and on the difference between friends and best friends in moving. Only Attell reacts to and works the crowd. "Oh, I found the level?!" he says at one point. Attell jokes about starting to go bald. Smart, but dark stuff. Still true today. And that's why so many comedians love him.
Eric Tunney is a Canadian, and perhaps the only one from this crop that you don't remember. Although his joke about Hitler ruining that mustache certainly has garnered more than a few fans over the years, hasn't it?
Dave Chappelle, even in early 1995, showed enormous talent, and in his opening line, paved the way for years of Aspen jokes about the lack of black people. But he played it big with a lengthy pause before asking, "Where are you hiding all of your black people?" Sharp material on race. He mentions how he spent three years in a small town in Ohio (which he liked more than he'd let on, apparently), tackles the poor choices made in fashioning Wonder Woman as a role model, and closes with his own superhero, Trick Whitey Man.
Anthony Clark, introduced as the college entertainer of the year, would get the first big break of anyone in this special, appearing in several episodes that fall on the Ellen sitcom, followed by his own sitcom the following year in Boston Common. When I saw him cracking up at his own jokes on a panel of Emerson College alums in 2006, I wondered if he had completely lost it. But here he was, back in 1995, cracking himself up as he joked at length about Oklahoma (a topic that Bill Hicks explored in his young comedians special in 1987, by the way), and being in a bad gang in Los Angeles ("the Lemon Slushies").
Louis CK closed the show, and at this point in his career, he was writing for Conan O'Brien and hadn't been married or had kids yet, so you get to see what was on his mind before his family life took over...and that was...random things about living in New York City, forgetting to have money while shopping, and not-so random (as it turns out now) thoughts about masturbation and sex. He jokes about wearing a bathing suit because he ran out of clean underwear. Which reminds me, I have to do laundry tonight.
What happens when people stop acting polite and start getting real? True story!* Original member of MTV's The Real World, Kevin Powell, is running for Congress in New York City, and last night held a fund-raiser in which Dave Chappelle was your featured headline performer. Only Chappelle never made it out of Ohio. That's amusing enough, and anyone who knows Chappelle knows he hasn't been a stickler for keeping to itineraries (he told me once he was headed to the airport to London, except I saw him the next day still in NYC). More amusing to me and maybe you but certainly not for the people who paid to attend Powell's fund-raiser, Chris Rock was in the building, but declined to take the stage. Gothamist has the nuts and bolts, with photos. For a truly crazy take on the night focusing on the one guy who did attempt a jokey-joke, read this account in The Brooklyn Paper.
*I always say "True story!" in the voice of the cowboy kid from season 2 in Los Angeles, which may not align completely with a post about Powell, but c'mon, it's the only way to say "True story!"
The barkers for the Comedy Village now have something extra to bark about this week on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village, as PJ Landers announced to clubgoers and mailing listers over the weekend that the building has new owners and the club will close May 10. Dave Chappelle continued to make drop-in appearances at the former Boston Comedy Club (which under previous previous owner/manager Barry Katz helped propel more than a few careers) this past weekend (the blog A Day in the Life recounts Chappelle holding the stage for four hours late Saturday night into Sunday morning), while The Apiary publishes the memo from Landers about the club's immiment departure. A new site for the club has not yet been announced.
Which reminds me, here is footage "Big Red" Landers provided of Chevy Chase shaking hands with Dave Chappelle last month onstage at the Comedy Village. Enjoy!
The other day, I caught the final few minutes of Dave Chappelle's HBO Comedy Half-Hour from 1998 (taped in San Francisco in 1997). After a routine on racism, Chappelle closes his set wondering what would happen if and when he ever became rich and famous. It rings with so much more truth years later, after seeing Chappelle react to the aftermath of his mega-million Comedy Central deal, and seeing him now.
"I'm nervous. Not about this special. I hope this shit don't make me famous. You dig? I don't want to be famous famous. I want people to like me for who I am. Like, famous dude don't ever know why people like him. That's why if I ever make it, I'm going to have to like, have to test people..."
And here is a video clip of those final eight minutes I mentioned above:
Warm temperatures, a full moon and Friday night meant you just knew that everyone would be out and about in New York City. After catching some live comedy around the city, I settled in for some people-watching outside the Comedy Cellar. Among the people watched last night, Chevy Chase with his wife and one of his daughters, who walked past around 1 a.m. Ardie Fuqua, hosting the Cellar last night, excitedly exclaimed, "It's Chevy Chase," and ran over to shake his hand. Chase and crew kept walking, though. And it turns out Chase already had his fill of comedy for the evening, considering he made an impromptu appearance and performance earlier at the Comedy Village, all to see Dave Chappelle. The Comedy Village is thrilled about this because they usually have barkers at the sidewalk corners trying to get passersby to pay a visit, and saying you had Chappelle and Chase in your club last night is a nice feat.
Anyhow. According to comedian/eyewitness Maria Shehata, Chappelle had the mic and began poking fun at someone who just entered the club, saying to him: "Did you say you had herpes? Did you just walk into a comedy club and announce you have herpes?" The club's staff replied first: "It's Chevy Chase!" This naturally got the audience even more excited than they were. Chase approached Chappelle and the two shook hands, and Chase said he showed up because he heard Chappelle was there. After Chappelle concluded his set about a half-hour later, Chase took the stage, sat down and worked the crowd for a few minutes, taking questions, goofing around, and in this brief clip, giving his assessment on the current cast of Saturday Night Live. "I think they're damned good. They're serious. There's not one of them in the back freebasing," he said. Roll it!
Someone told Radar magazine that Dave Chappelle dropped in at the end of Sunday night's show at the Comedy Cellar to extend the night another four hours. I didn't make it this time to see for myself.
Two problems (man, oh, man, I'm full of cantankerousness recently)...
1) Why again with the super-long stand-up sets? I'm all for hanging with Chappelle nonstop and enjoying his hilarious riffs on anything and everything, but in a club setting?
2) This one digs at me even more. Radar's Neel Shah must not know much about comedy because he starts his report this way: "Patrons of New York's Comedy Cellar who waited out a bunch of amateur yucksters..." Really? Amateur yucksters?!?! Do you have that much disdain for stand-up comedy, Mr. Shah (here I channel my inner Shecky Magazine), that anyone who's not Dave Chappelle is an amateur? And yuckster? Nice double dig, there. Yuck, indeed. FYI, you don't get on the bill at the Comedy Cellar if you're an amateur. It's all pros. And mostly national headliners with massive TV credits. Is Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond an amateur yuckster? Dave Attell? Nick DiPaolo? Jim Norton? Argh. Head hurts from reading drivel such as this.
Tonight's so-called "amateur" lineup at the Comedy Cellar includes Darrell Hammond, Kevin Brennan, Elon Gold, Robert Kelly, Marina Franklin, Dan Naturman, Sherrod Small, James Smith, Dave Attell, Greer Barnes and Godfrey. Go see them. And tell them Neel Shah thinks they're "amateur yucksters."
UPDATED: Upon further reflection of the Radar post, the photo of Chappelle isn't from the Comedy Cellar at all. If anything, it looks more like Comedy Village. In which case, then maybe the Sunday night crowd did sit through more than a few amateurs. I need to know more.
Dane Cook rang in 2008 by performing an alleged record-setting seven -- count 'em, 7! -- seven hours of stand-up comedy on New Year's Day at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.
As Cook himself wrote on his site: "I never sat down or left the stage. The show started with a small mighty crowd of around 60 and 35 of us were together this morning still laughing and recapping 2007 with laughs galore. It felt fantastic. The longest set I have ever done before that was 3 hours 50 minutes at the LF as well. It's a historic club with so much positive energy. One of the best locations I have ever had the privilege of performing at. I talked about anything and everything. From tigers mauling people to my parents deaths. Reconstructive surgery to starting my very own race war. Sex, drugs and anything else that my brain served up. I knew everyone in the crowd by the end and now they know me too. I dedicate my record breaking set to all comedians that inspire me past and present."
Um, OK. Why, eggsactly is this a record of note? I know it's certainly possible from Cook -- having witnessed him blaze through more than three hours of all-new material at his Vicious Circle taping in Boston two years ago. He's not a traditional set-up, punchline kind of guy. Cook's a storyteller. A storyteller who loves detours in plot and playing with words and making up slang, taking his fans along for the journey. It's part of the reason some comedians look down on him in the first place (aside from mere jealousy). These stand-ups don't feel like Cook is telling jokes. In some cases, he's not. He's telling stories and the way he tells them makes his fans laugh. Anyhow. Now I've gotten sidetracked. Look what you made me do there. Cook took the "record" away from Dave Chappelle. Chappelle is another guy who eats up stage time as if he were a man on Death Row who'd asked for his last meal to be an all-you-can-eat buffet. Chappelle loves taking his time between bits, and when he's just screwing around on an unannounced gig, often stops several times to ask the audience what they want to talk about to give him new opportunities at material. But still. Even knowing all of this. Why, oh why, would you want to stay onstage for seven hours? And why would you want to put an audience through humor fatigue like that?
And even more of a why, why does this kind of thing always seem to revolve around Jamie Masada, who's quoted in the E! story saying, "I'm trying to give them a venue to let them work the way they want to, and I respect them because I love comics. I'm watching the greatest art form." Hold on a moment, there. Masada wants to let comics "work the way they want to"??? Isn't this the same guy, who (let's put aside the whole taking the kid to Michael Jackson story because it's not relevant, except as circumstantial evidence that, well, um, consider the source here) made such a huge ordeal about banning the word "nigger" from his stage and fining comedians for using the word after allowing Michael Richards to implode his career on that same stage? Isn't this the same club owner who tries to get TV time for any entertainment story that's remotely related to comedy? I met Masada once at his less-than-famous New York City Laugh Factory two years ago. He was more than kind. Said some very nice things to say about me and my comedy after I took part in a funny reporter contest at his Midtown club. So I don't have any ill will toward him. I just question the need for making his Hollywood club a place where performers will just talk and talk and talk and talk, just for the sake of setting a record.
Speaking of records...
SNL may have had Chevy Chase back at the “Weekend Update” news desk last weekend, but audience members at the Comedy Cellar got even rarer treats late Saturday night as both Robin Williams and Dave Chappelle dropped in for unannounced performances at the city’s top comedy club.
That's Chappelle at about 1:53 a.m. Sunday, doing his thing. Note to self: Get a new phone. And to think, I'd just told Estee earlier that night that I always forget to bring my digital camera when things like this happen. (Bonus comedy nerd points if you know whose head that is in the lower left-hand corner of my photo)
Williams, shooting the film “Old Dogs” with John Travolta in Connecticut, performed a raunchy 20-minute routine just before midnight Saturday, complete with his trademark riffing and voices. But after joking about Lindsay Lohan, he got candid about his own recovery from alcoholism, telling the audience that “you realize that life is a precious thing” and telling comedians afterward that stand-up comedy and AA meetings are the two things helping him maintain his sobriety. He seemed very cool and collected and interested in how the other comics were doing. I'd talked to Williams offstage once about five years ago, and it reminded me that this is an even more interesting guy to talk to when he's not trying to be "on."
At the late late show, Chappelle took audience requests and laughed early and often at his own jokes for about 55 minutes. He said a woman suggested he read “The Secret” to help get over the $50 million deal he walked away from with Comedy Central. “Positive imagery? That’s the secret? Go to Africa and tell some starving kids that (expletive)!” He also can sing quite a bit of John Mellencamp’s 1982 hit, “Jack and Diane.” He told the audience: “Put that under song lyrics I didn’t know how the (expletive) I knew them for $1,000.”
Chappelle was turning heads on MacDougal Street all weekend, hanging outside the Cellar and Olive Tree Cafe with other comedians Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He declined most but not all photo requests from passersby, saying he didn't want to set a precedent that'd have him taking photos all night long. Fair enough. Very easygoing guy, considering all of the hassles he puts up with -- then again, he does spend a lot of time on his farm in Ohio. Which probably also explains why he comes back to NYC every once in a while to feed his need for laughs at the Cellar. He said he also likes to work out at the Punchline. At one point Sunday night, he turned to me and said, “My life is weird, man.” Didn’t need to tell us that, Dave!