When Chappelle’s Show dropped, I was already a fan. Dave’s first hour long HBO special, Dave Chappelle: Killin’ Them Softly, was literally the funniest thing I’d ever seen up until that point in my life. I have never laughed so hard for so long at anything before. It was was seamless blend of Race, Politics and Pop Culture and Dave wasn’t dumbing down his comedy to reach the audience. His commentary was SO smart, SO sharp and it challenged the audience to think. He turned the unfair stereotypes about what a black comedians could do in front of a black audience on their collective ears.
Black Comedians have always touched on social and political issues. Red Foxxx, Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Paul Mooney and Eddie Murphy all discussed the headlines of the day in their performances. The daily Black Existence in America is riddled with social injustices, institutional racism and microaggressions and humor is often our best coping strategy. Mark Twain said “Humor is tragedy plus time.” Black Americans have 500 years of unrelenting tragedy to draw from so the options for humor are nearly limitless.
On to the Show
During the First Season, I was evangelical regarding rallying my friends to watching it. It had been suggested that Chappelle’s Show came out of nowhere, but I like to think is was due to the rampant and incessant hyping of fans like myself, who simply refused to shut up about how good the the show was. The show checked every box of my interests all the way down to the musical guests. The sketches were quotable, the premises simple and the satire was brutal. Chappelle was able to expose racial inequity, social inconsistency while mixing it with his brand of absurdist humor. There wasn’t any wasted motion. While some sketches were funnier than others there were any that could be considered weak or filler, at least during the first and second seasons. To be honest, I skipped the “3rd Season” for a long time because it wasn’t Dave’s vision and I found that specific collection of sketches to be lower quality than other seasons.
Those that watched the show religiously are bonded by quotes and references. We exchange memes with a wink and a nod, knowing that some simply won’t get it. We got a strange sense of satisfaction as Comedy Central tried desperately to create the same kind of magic with other comedians, at best, falling just short of Chappelle’s Show’s more adventurous sketches. We scavenge YouTube for new clips of Dave’s standup routines. We share rumors of a return to HBO or Showtime. Finally, we re-watch every episode and laugh at each joke like it’s the first time we heard it.
Why did this show leave such an impression? In my opinion, at it’s most basic, the show demonstrated what a smart black kid can do. We live in a time when ignorance and materialism is held as a virtue. Elements of “black culture” are are stripped of their uniqueness, mass produced, repackaged and resold by old white men. Chappelle’s Show was an original. It was an unflinching glance into race, sex and culture from the perspective of an intelligent and proud Black Man. It showed us that being Black, Proud and Intelligent were pretty cool things to be. Other shows have attempted to duplicate the formula Dave was perfecting before his falling out with Comedy Central. Most missed the mark. A few have been able to carve out their own niches but none quite captured what Chappelle was able to do for two perfect seasons.