I miss Chappelle's Show. It was always smart, broad, and brave.
The week of its debut, I had a chat with Dave for a feature in Time Out NY. I came across a transcript of this conversation the other day, and in re-reading it, remembered how surprised he was at the success of the show.
With luck, we'll get him onstage at some point - he has said "yes" in the past - but until then, this will have to do.
photo credit: Danielle Levitt
January 26th, 2003
Your show caught me completely off guard. Not that I didn't expect it to be funny, but it's some of the best sketch comedy I've seen on TV.
Wow, thanks man!
What's the background?
I like to look at it like doing stand-up with visual aids, like when you do stand-up, you have to work with words, but now we have the luxury of words and pictures. So it's kind of fun to show people crazy ideas you might have.
It all seems very simple, but at the same time, it's all very smart.
Oh, man, thanks very much.
It's the twist on very simple concepts that rings large.
Our policy has been, and when I say our, I mean Neal Brennan and myself, who I write the show with, is, we want to dance like nobody's watching. We do the stuff that's funny to us, that's why the show's kind of eclectic, some jokes are really smart, sometimes we just do a poop joke. It's all funny to us, but I think most people's senses of humor are tiered like that, it's not just one type of comedy.
You've been through the pilot process before, now this. How did Chappelle's Show come about?
I think a lot of it is in the direct reaction to what I've been through dealing with television and show business, generally. It's a crazy place where art and corporate interest meet. A lot of entertainers are as free to be as opinionated as they'd like to be, especially when they're selling soap.
So that's why it's such a good fit with Comedy Central?
Yeah, 'cause it's a venue that makes allowances for that, and their MO, their modus operendi, has really been about taking chances. And that's what comedy is about, and the network really embraced it. At the same time, they were at a point where they wanted to diversify their audience, if you will, and this show was a good opportunity for both of us.
They've definitely been getting more aggressive, and it's good to see that the comedy channel is no longer a series of endless re-runs.
Yeah, their original programs, just from what I've seen around the office here, they're trying to step up. And with this show, I think, there's been a lot of times when what I want to do is away from their sensibilities and their programmers, but they trust me, they've had to take a leap of faith, and to their credit, they've done that, even if they don't necessarily get it, they've done it.
'Cause they've got faith in you?
Yeah, and that's like, for me, that's unprecedented in my career. Normally they get a guy that's funny and try to tell him what to do, when none of them are accomplished as funny people. They're primarily investors.
That's typically been your experience.
Yeah, with anything in entertainment, it's all by committee, it's got to go through a lot of people.
You started out as a stand-up, but when you envisioned moving beyond that, you had all this control when it was just you, and now you don't?
Originally, you know, you always think of bigger and better things, but as I got out there, the reality of what that meant I actually found stifling. Because bigger and better things may have been bigger, but they weren't necessarily better. And that's another reason why I decided on Comedy Central. Because in my meetings for television, they were the only place where a comic like me could go and have a show that resembles his voice as a comedian.
On a network, they try to make you a parody of yourself, a more palatable version of yourself.
Now that you've appeared in so many mediums, what's your main love?
Well I always love stand-up, but I've got to say, outside of stand-up, this show is the closest thing in my career to coming near that, because ultimately, me and Neal will write something that we think is funny, we'll laugh about it in front of the typewriter, and we'll just recreate that vision for an audience. And, you know, it wasn't until we were actually watching the show premiere on Comedy Central, I think it even dawned on either of us that this show was even going to be on television. I can't explain it, but I couldn't believe that people were even going to be seeing this shit.
Are you worried about the reaction to it, do you think it's too strong?
Someone made the observation to us that it's almost not even television.