We may not have seen President-elect Donald Trump coming, but at least “Saturday Night Live” had the foresight to book Dave Chappelle — a comedian known for incisive, unpredictable commentary on race — to host the first episode following an election that came to embody our nation’s deep racial divisions.
The gig marks a very public return for the reclusive comedian, who skyrocketed to fame with his Comedy Central sketch series “Chappelle’s Show,” which offered sharp and irreverent social commentary, particularly around race. Memorable sketches include a “Frontline” parody that found Chappelle portraying a blind KKK member who didn’t know he was actually black and a recurring bit that starred Chappelle as a crack addict with lips perpetually covered in white powder. There is also that classic sketch reenacting a surreal pick-up basketball game that Eddie Murphy and his brother Charlie played with Prince in the mid-80s.
Chappelle abruptly left Comedy Central in 2005 after just two seasons — months after he reportedly signed a $50 million deal to film a third and fourth season. (He had already filmed enough material to comprise the three episodes that account for the show’s very truncated third season.) Chappelle headed to South Africa, sparking rumors that he was mentally ill or struggling with drug addiction, but Chappelle told Time’s Johannesburg bureau chief that the country offered him the one thing he could no longer get in the states: quiet.
“I’m an introspective dude,” he told the magazine. “I enjoy my own thoughts sometimes. And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking here.”
In the years since, Chappelle — a Washington native who graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts — quietly returned to stand-up and has addressed the mystery surrounding his departure in sporadic interviews.
He also felt the show’s subtle satire had morphed into something more sinister. “I was doing sketches that were funny, but socially irresponsible,” he said. “I felt like I was deliberately being encouraged and I was overwhelmed. It’s like you’re being flooded with things and you don’t pay attention to things like your ethics.”
Chappelle made the late-night rounds in 2014, leading up to a nine-show stint at Radio City Music Hall. “Technically, I never quit. I am seven years late for work,” he told David Letterman. Chappelle admitted he remained conflicted about the way he left the show.
“You know, whenever there’s something that I’d like to have that I could have afforded that I can’t now afford, well, then I’m upset about it,” he said. “But then when I see a guy going to do a job that’s time consuming and he doesn’t have the free time to do things that I get to do, then I feel good about it.”
Chappelle has continued stand-up, but remains an elusive, often misunderstood figure and has faced heckling at shows in recent years.
At the Roots Picnic festival last month, Chappelle told the crowd., “You guys don’t know what I’ve been through, watching Key & Peele do my show the last five f–ing years.” He was joking, of course — minutes earlier he had told the crowd that his presence meant that “Kevin Hart couldn’t be here and D’Angelo’s late” — but Internet headlines screamed that he had “slammed” the comedy duo.
In a stand-up set last Friday, Chappelle riffed on the election — including the infamous tape of Donald Trump and Billy Bush’s lewd remarks on “Access Hollywood.” The Observer (whose publisher, Jared Kushner, is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka) reported that Chappelle’s 60-minute set was “largely devoted to slamming Hillary Clinton” and that the comedian had “shocked the New York crowd by defending Trump.”
A spokesman for the comedian told Variety that Chappelle’s routine had “blasted both candidates” and that the comedian was “disgusted by the tone of the election and especially by the idea that his comedy would be misconstrued to defend Trump.” The rep added, “By the way, he voted for Hillary.”
As for what we can expect on Saturday, the running joke is that he might not turn up. In a promo for the show, Chappelle assures Jarobi White and Q-Tip (of “A Tribe Called Quest,)” who will perform on this weekend’s show) that he’ll be there.
(Source: African American News)