David “Dave” Chappelle (born August 24, 1973) is an American comedian, satirist and actor who rose to top stardom in 2003 with the debut of Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show. He received two Emmy nominations during the 2003-04 TV season and another nomination for the 2004-05 season.
Dave Chappelle was born in Washington, D.C.. His father, William Chappelle was a professor of voice and music at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. His mother, Yvonne Seon is a Unitarian Universalist minister. During young Dave’s formative years, his comic inspiration came from various comedy idols, particularly Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and also the Warner Brothers cartoon character Bugs Bunny.
At the age of 14, he gathered the courage to perform stand-up comedy at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater. The performance resulted in him being booed off the stage, but in the Inside the Actors Studio interview, broadcast February 12, 2006, he described the experience as an enlightening moment that gave him the courage to continue his show business aspirations.
After his parents separated, Chappelle stayed in Washington with his mother, while spending summers with his father in Yellow Springs. In June 1991, he graduated from Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a renowned performing arts high school, where he majored in theatre arts.
Within a year of his graduation, Dave Chappelle appeared, at the age of 19, in small, but showy roles in his first two films, 1993’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights (released on July 28) and Undercover Blues (released on September 10, although it was apparently filmed before Robin Hood). On the strength of his performances in these films, Chappelle was offered the role of Bubba in Forrest Gump, which was in a pre-production stage. Not realizing the impact this future Best Picture Oscar would have, and concerned about what seemed to be a racially-demeaning portrayal of the character, he took the advice of fellow comedian Bill Cosby in turning down the part, ultimately played by Mykelti Williamson. He has since admitted to deeply regretting the decision. Chappelle played another supporting movie role in 1994’s little-seen Getting In.
He attracted the attention of TV network executives with his exuberant performance in the March 14, 1995 episode of ABC’s highly rated sitcom Home Improvement. The storyline had Chappelle and actor Jim Breuer play a duo of amateur filmmakers whose every move with their girlfriends (As directed by Tim) resulted in comic mayhem. The characters’ single outing in the episode proved so popular that ABC decided to star them in their own half-hour sitcom Buddies premiering on Tuesday, March 5, 1996. Jim Breuer however, was replaced with Christopher Gartin as Dave’s “buddy” after subsequent rehearsals. The unique comic timing and chemistry that Chappelle had with Breuer in the Home Improvement episode was not present with Gartin, and Breuer’s abrupt firing exacerbated ill will and prevented Chappelle and Gartin from developing the rapport and comedic chemistry necessary for the characters’ believability and likeability. The dilemma was reflected in the disappointing ratings. When a move to Wednesday night failed to improve its performance, Buddies was off the air on March 27 after a broadcast history of only four episodes out of thirteen that were produced. Nine years later, in May 2005, ten of the episodes were released on a single-disc DVD to capitalize on Chappelle’s new-found fame.
He later appeared as the nightclub comedian in the remake of The Nutty Professor, had a minor role in Con Air, had a supporting role in Martin Lawrence’s Blue Streak, and co-wrote (with Neal Brennan), produced (uncredited) and starred in Half Baked, a cult film about a group of pot-smoking best friends trying to get their friend out of jail. Since he remained in contact with his Buddies co-star Jim Breuer, Chappelle decided to try recapturing the special comic harmony that they generated two years earlier by offering Breuer the co-starring role in Half Baked.
Chappelle appeared as himself in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, in which he and the executives of the show’s nameless television network satirized the treatment that scriptwriters and show creators were subject to, as well as the executives’ knee-jerk stereotyping when it came to race. In 1998, he played a supporting role as Tom Hanks’ best friend and confidant in You’ve Got Mail.
In 2003, Chappelle debuted his own weekly television show on Comedy Central called Chappelle’s Show. The show parodies many aspects of American culture such as racial stereotypes and slurs, including his African-American heritage. This, combined with Chappelle’s pointed social and political commentary, quickly helped garner the show’s critical and commercial success. Chappelle’s Show also gained a large hip-hop following and featured progressive rappers such as Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Mos Def, and Kanye West. Along with comedy skits, the show also had musical performances, which spotlighted musical guests such as Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, Outkast, Common, De La Soul, Fat Joe, Anthony Hamilton, DMX, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, and John Mayer. Chappelle can even be heard on the track “The Mic” by the Roots as well as “Right About Now” by Talib Kweli. In addition, he intros in the song “Keynote Speaker” on Talib Kweli’s album Quality.
By the end of the second season, it was one of the highest-rated shows on basic cable, with a greater audience share than South Park on Comedy Central. Additionally, the DVD set, Chappelle’s Show Season One Uncensored!, became the best-selling DVD of a television show to date, overtaking the previous best-selling, The Simpsons first season DVD. It had sold over 3 million copies . Due to the show’s popularity, Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom reportedly offered Chappelle a $55 million contract (giving Chappelle a share of DVD sales) to continue production of Chappelle’s Show for two more years while allowing him to do side projects. Chappelle had stated that sketches are not his favorite form of comedy, and that the characteristics of the show’s format were somewhat like short films.
Chappelle portraying the late Rick James in the infamous Rick James sketch.
Chappelle portraying the late Rick James in the infamous Rick James sketch.
The comedian stunned fans and the entertainment industry when he abruptly left during production of the third season of Chappelle’s Show. Chappelle has since stated that he was unhappy with the direction the show had taken, claiming pressure from network executives regarding the show’s content. Chappelle left the United States to visit South Africa. His decision triggered reports of mental or drug problems with the actor, which Chappelle later denied. On May 11, 2005, news sources reported that Chappelle had checked himself into a psychiatric facility in South Africa, which Chappelle has since repeatedly denied. On May 14, Time Magazine announced that one of their reporters had interviewed Chappelle in South Africa, and the comedian said no psychiatric treatments were occurring or necessary. Chappelle has stated that his reasons for visiting South Africa were to reflect on his life and career.
On August 3, co-star Charlie Murphy gave an interview to TV Guide stating that he believed that Dave Chappelle was finished with Chappelle’s Show and would not be returning.
Later in the year, Chappelle had returned home and was performing impromptu shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Newport, Kentucky. He was interviewed for Inside the Actors Studio on December 18, 2005 at Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts. The show premiered on February 12, 2006. Chappelle stated that the death of his father had an impact in his decision to go to South Africa to get away from the stress of stardom, stating that he had not received a chance to mourn his father’s death. He also said the rumors that he was in drug or psychiatric treatment only persuaded him to stay in South Africa.
He was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on her show on February 3, 2006 in his first televised interview since his departure from Chappelle’s Show. He stated in the interview that he “wasn’t crazy” but the environment was “incredibly stressful”. He continued:
“I would go to work on the show and I felt awful every day, that’s not the way it was. … I felt like some kind of prostitute or something. If I feel so bad, why keep on showing up to this place? I’m going to Africa. The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everybody is watching.”
Chappelle also admitted to Oprah that he felt some of his sketches were socially irresponsible. He singled out the “pixie sketch” (in which it implied everyone has a pixie that appears to them and encourages them to act in a way stereotypical for their race) and said during the filming of the blackface pixie sketch, a white crew member was laughing. Chappelle said “it was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me.” He also said that during the sketch he was called nigger by one of the other non-important cast members.
During these interviews, Chappelle did not rule out returning to Chappelle’s Show to “finish what we started”, but promised that he would not return without changes to the production, such as a better working environment. He also stated he would like to donate half of the DVD sales to charity, and to people that supported him. Chappelle expressed disdain at the possibility of his material from the unfinished third season being aired, saying that to do so would be “a bully move”, and that he would not return to the show if Comedy Central were to air the unfinished material. On July 9, 2006, Comedy Central aired the first episode of Chappelle’s Show: The Lost Episodes. An uncensored DVD release of the episodes was made available on July 25.
Chappelle has stated that he has no intention of leaving Yellow Springs, Ohio, his current residence (see below). “Turns out you don’t need $50 million to live around these parts, just a nice smile and a kind way about you. You guys are the best neighbors ever”, he stated at a blues and jazz festival in the town in mid-September 2006, “That’s why I came back and that’s why I’m staying.”
Chappelle was the subject of the Michel Gondry-directed documentary Dave Chappelle’s Block Party which chronicles a Chappelle-hosted event in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on 18 September 2004. The highlight of the event was the reunion of popular ‘90s rap group The Fugees. Chappelle toured several cities in February and March 2006 to promote the film under the moniker “Block Party All-Stars featuring Dave Chappelle”. Universal Pictures’ genre division Rogue Pictures released the film in the United States on March 3, 2006.
Chappelle has made an appearance on Def Poetry. He performed two poems, titled Fuck Ashton Kutcher and How I Got the Lead on “Jeopardy!.”
In 1998, Chappelle converted to Islam. He told Time Magazine in a May 2005 interview, “I don’t normally talk about my religion publicly because I don’t want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing. And I believe it is beautiful if you learn it the right way.”
Chappelle has commented on being a computer and video game enthusiast, some of his favorites being NBA Street, Street Fighter and Grand Theft Auto. He also is a World of Warcraft enthusiast. On Chappelle’s Show, he has paid homage a few different times to various video games. One was to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, in which he plays the main character that steals a car to go to work. Another was to the game Street Hoops, in which he challenges and beats a child with cancer. In a 2Pac rap sketch, a lyric mentions “run up in yo’ spot like CJ from San Andreas”.
He lives with his wife Elaine (who is of Filipino descent) and two sons (one is named Sulayman) on a 65-acre (26-hectare) farm just outside Yellow Springs, Ohio. When he is not touring or engaged in filming for television or the big screen, Chappelle can be seen in the shops and markets of the small college town known as a countercultural center.
Chappelle likes to skateboard as a hobby and says he tries to find skateparks in the cities he performs in. He made an appearance skateboarding in the Signature Video Magazine Volume 1. The video features a short clip of Dave skating at Project 58 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He made another appearance skating on the first episode of Chappelle’s Show during the credits as Clayton Bigsby, black white supremacist.