This column in a recent Hollywood Reporter calling Dave Chappelle a quitter is more than annoying. It’s inaccurate. One of the columnist’s points is that Dave hasn’t been forthcoming about what exactly made him leave his show. Dave’s been vague at times - in many ways because the decision was based more on instinct rather than anything else. But one reason that’s been constant since the first article about his departure has been his discomfort with the impact of his sketches on race. The fact that this isn’t even mentioned is enough to make a conspiracy brother out of this pale honkey o’fay white devil.
Chappelle has just come off a year of seeing how influential a single sketch could be - particularly from the constant yells of “I’m Rick James, Bitch.” Suddenly realizing that you can occupy such a significant amount of thoughtspace from just one thing you do must be amazing and terrifying at once. It’s the kind of the thing that can cause an artist to reexamine their work and what it does.
Many creative people like to ignore the dark sides of our entertainment, saying it doesn’t change the social fabric or affect members of our audience in a negative way. But yet, what do we hope our work does? Affect people. After being chased about a catchphrase that exploded so big that it occasionally drove him offstage, Chappelle was naturally cautious about what he was going to put out there in season 3, even if they were the bits that fell out of his own brain.
He joked about the famous line from Spider-Man on Anderson Cooper, “From Great Power Comes Responsibility” - but it’s real. He’s acutely aware that his jokes have an effect and he wants it to be a good one. It’s the same career crossroads that Richard Pryor made when he decided to stop using the word “nigger” after going to Africa (a vow I’m not sure he entirely kept, but still…)
The column also takes Chappelle to task for calling airing the Lost Episodes a “Bully Move”, equating his sudden flight to Africa to be a “Bully Move” as well. I don’t think it’s the most mature reaction to the problems Chappelle was facing (the most troublesome part to me was that he didn’t even tell his wife where he was - but that’s between them), but to be a bully you have to have power. Chappelle has power certainly, but to assert that he’s bigger than Viacom is ludicrous. I don’t fault Comedy Central for airing the episodes, but we should keep in mind who’s the larger entity here.