Never before has a comedian been paid so much. Netflix airs the first of three shows with irreverent Dave Chappelle, who mysteriously vanished at the height of his success
Dave Chappelle starred in one of the most bizarre episodes in show business so far this century. Without giving any explanation and without communicating it to anyone, he left the recording of his successful show, Chappelle’s Show, thus breaking a contract of 50 million dollars (46 million euros) and firing up all possible speculation about the reasons for his flight. There was even talk of suicide. Also of kidnapping. Others were convinced that he had entered a detox clinic.
“Everything that has been said is completely false. We have the most irresponsible press in the world,” he assured on his return. “Also, I don’t drink or take drugs.” This happened in 2005, when Chappelle was 32 years old. A week after his disappearance, a journalist found Chappelle with a group of friends on a tour of South Africa. The following week he was on American soil, began the preparations for his wedding with Elaine Mendoza (his wife to this day) and went to live on a farm in the small town of Yellow Springs (Ohio), where he is still the most illustrious of the barely 3,500 neighbors. There he has raised his three children.
He broke a $ 50 million contract and fled. Speculation about his disappearance soared. There was even talk of suicide. Also kidnapping
From then until his massive appearance in November 2016 as a guest on Saturday Night Live, Dave Chappelle (Washington DC, 1973) has barely lavished himself. Now he returns in a big way with three comedy shows for Netflix, which start on March 21 and for which he will collect 60 million dollars (55 million euros). Never before has so much money been paid to a comedian. There are 20 million for each program, less than an hour.
Two questions must be resolved now. What was the real reason for Chappelle’s disappearance and in what way will the most irreverent comedian of his generation return? Did we say irreverent? Let’s look at some examples in the form of jokes: “In every black gang there has to be a target. Do you know why Because, at a certain point in the night, someone has to talk to the police. ” Or: “They broke into my house once, and I didn’t call the police. No way. My house is too cool even for me. If the police had come in they would have started asking me questions and I would have ended up in the police station accused of stealing from myself. ”
Tall and lanky, almost always dressed in wide clothing and his hair almost to scratch, Dave Chappelle physically matches the stereotype of a black gang member raised in a social housing neighborhood. Much more when the comedian hails from Washington DC, the country’s capital and one of the places in the United States with the largest black population and poor marginalized. However, Chappelle had a childhood that we can describe as comfortable. He is the son of two teachers who, despite their divorce, worried that their three offspring did not go through straits.
Chappelle’s humor is brutal, honest, goes straight to the pit of his stomach, and in a high percentage revolves around racial issues. His jokes always start with himself and his own: “White children have therapy and black children have alcohol and weapons.” And they culminate in the others: “Elián, the raft boy, has to thank God for having been born in Cuba. If he had been Haitian, we would not have heard of him in our entire lives. If Elián González had been Elián Mubombo from Haiti, they would have gently pushed their inflatable raft back out to sea saying, ‘Sorry buddy, there’s no place. Good luck.’
But what was the reason for the disappearance? The version that Chappelle has been giving has changed over the years. His Chappelle’s Show program was a success from the first broadcast. But there was an important turning point: Chappelle’s series of sketches on how Bush (then President of the United States: we are talking about the early 2000s) would have behaved as president if he had been black.
It sat so badly on the White House that the program received an avalanche of protests from other networks and lived for a time in strong controversy. The comedian was accused of not humorous but of wanting to discredit the president by recalling one of the jokes: “I don’t understand politics, but I couldn’t vote for George Bush. It is not something that has to do with politics: it is because we know that Bush sniffed cocaine and I do not want to have a cocaine addict in the White House. Damn, this is very serious! A cocaine addict could sell the nuclear secrets for $ 20 or $ 30! ”
Never before has a comedian been paid so much. They are 18.5 million euros for each program, less than one hour each
Chappelle’s extremist style, however, connected with the audience and Comedy Central had no problem signing for a new season (it went from collecting 1 to 5 million dollars). As this second installment consecrated Dave Chappelle as one of the best comedians in the country, the chain put another new offer for two more seasons in exchange for 50 million dollars.
Meanwhile, Chappelle had his most partying season and was seen on the march with Kanye West and some of the biggest celebrities. That atmosphere, far from entertaining or amusing him, plunged him into a kind of panic at the fame that was heightened when Comedy Central wanted to cut Chappelle’s creative control. He felt uncomfortable and, for the first time in his career, he exploded on stage.
It was in June 2005, at a Sacramento club. The audience demanded that he play the characters on his television show, and he shouted, “Do you know why my show is so good? Because the owners of the chains think that you are idiots and that you are not prepared for what I do. However, every day I fight with them and I tell them that you are intelligent, that you will understand what I do. But I was wrong. You are a bunch of assholes. “
Since that incident, he was no longer seen acting. In September the recording of the third part of her show began. This is how he explained: “I came out dressed and made up in the dressing room as one of the characters and one of the technicians started laughing. It was not a normal laugh. It was the first time in my life that I felt that they were laughing at me and not at me. I couldn’t bear it. “
The next day Chappelle did not show up for work and showed no signs of life. The next day, either. Producers released a statement saying he had the flu and was recovering. Shortly after the news of his disappearance is leaked. His agent, his publicist, and his hitherto best friend and co-writer on the show, Neal Brennan, admit that they don’t know where he’s gotten himself.
In the few interviews that he would grant in the following years Dave Chappelle talks about the reasons for his disappearance. He fears his show is “socially irresponsible.” And, above all, the fear of fame and being the easy target of the tabloid press. It also speaks of one of the oldest claims of the African American community: to be the owners of their own destiny, to have artistic control and to make their success or failure a consequence of their own decisions.
His performances have been few since his escape, and, except for the 10 nights in a row with fillings at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 2014, they have all been improvised or miscalculated. The true comeback of the king of African American comedy will take place on March 21, when Netflix airs the first of three comedy specials it has featured with Chappelle. 60 million dollars. Not bad after 12 years of absence, which, in the language of comedians, usually means artistic death.
Chappelle returns just when the world is most in need of laughter.
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