Comic Dave Chappelle represents perhaps the most lamented absence on television of the last decade or two — and after disappearing and remaining in hiding for several years, he recently began a slow return to show business.
At the top of his game, Dave Chappelle’s much-lauded Chappelle’s Show was both uniquely edgy and hilarious. Still frequently quoted by fans years later, the sketch comedy program was laden with painfully accurate jokes about race and society.
What happened next was the cause of much speculation and several half-explanations. Chappelle withdrew, stopped talking, stopped making episodes and walked away from fame and fortune.
Last year, he began performing stand-up shows more regularly, sometimes to mixed reaction.
Tuesday, Chappelle sat down with David Letterman and dished on his sudden departure at length.
“I don’t talk about it… Listen, here it is: Technically, I never quit. I’m seven years late for work.”
Describing the flounce as like “getting divorced in the ’50s,” Chappelle adds:
“People didn’t go to divorce court. They just look at their wife and were like, ‘I’m going to go get a pack of cigarettes. I’ll be right back.’ They just leave with the clothes on their back and make a go of it.”
While Chappelle has cited discomfort with racial humor and a minstrel feeling in the past, he elaborated on the vast sums of money involved when he explained last night:
“I look at it like this: I’m at a restaurant with my wife — it’s a nice restaurant and we’re eating dinner. I look across the room and see this guy eating dinner and I say, ‘You see this guy across the room? He has $100 million, and we’re eating the same entree.’ Ok, fine, I don’t have $50 million or whatever it was. Let’s say I have $10 million in the bank — the difference in lifestyle is miniscule. The only difference between having $10 million and $50 million is an astounding $40 million. Of course I would like to have that money.”
However, Chappelle doesn’t seem to be too bothered by the outcome, realizing that the loss of potential income is a situation most people don’t expect to face:
“Look, Dave, it’s very hard to go through something like this because no one has really done it before. So there’s not too many people that don’t think I’m crazy.”
In the interview above, watch Dave Chappelle speak to David Letterman about his Comedy Central departure and his lingering ambivalence.