Actor, writer, comic
From a very early age, Dave Chappelle could make people laugh. Chappelle realized the power of his natural talent and made some very serious goals for his art. As a teenager, he crafted his standup comedy act out of the realties of his life growing up black in the capital city of the United States. Racism and racial division became his main targets, and he approached them with an outrageous irreverence that often shocked his audiences into shouts of laughter. Though Chappelle has worked toward recognition and success, he has continually refused to tone down his style or dilute his outspoken African-American point of view in order to make his comedy "more acceptable." As a result, he has gained fame and success on his own terms, and has become especially popular with young audiences who appreciate Chappelle's sly social commentary and aggressively satiric style.
Born David Chappelle on August 24, 1973, in Washington, D.C., he grew up in the city and the nearby suburb of Silver Springs, Maryland. Summers were often spent in Yellow Springs, Ohio with his father who was a professor at Antioch University. He enjoyed the peaceful rural atmosphere of Yellow Springs, and as an adult, his home on an Ohio farm would become a family refuge from the more hectic entertainment worlds of New York and Los Angeles.
Chappelle was only 14 when he first performed his standup comedy act in public venues in Washington. His mother, a Unitarian minister, was very supportive of her son's talent and frequently accompanied him as a chaperone when he performed in nightclubs and bars. After a few years on stage, Chappelle began to win comedy contests, and by the time he was a senior in high school, he was traveling to comedy jobs on the road, excused from school by the principal so that he could pursue his career.
After his graduation from high school, Chappelle made a bargain with his parents. Instead of going to college right away, he would go to New York to work on his comedy act. If he did not succeed after one year, he would consider college. While working with other comics in the Washington area, Chappelle had learned a lot about the comedy clubs of New York, and he had grown to feel that he had to go there to become a real success in comedy.
Chappelle took two different approaches to developing his art as a performer and breaking into the national comedy scene. Other comics had advised him that the Boston Comedy Club in Greenwich Village was a good place for younger comedians, so he began performing there to build his reputation in the city. His plan worked well, and within weeks he was not only performing regularly at the Boston, but at comedy clubs all over New York.
However, Chappelle was not content just working the club circuit. He wanted to keep an edge of street-wise spontaneity in his work. To do this, he went, quite literally, out on the street and performed comedy in the parks and sidewalks of the city, alongside other street performers. There he met Charles Barnett, a street comedian who became his good friend and mentor. Working on the streets taught Chappelle confidence and honed his fast-paced aggressive style. He was impressed by the courage and skill of street comics like Barnett, who had the nerve and skill to capture the attention of passers by, but whose work was seen by so few. When Charles Barnett died of AIDS, Chappelle planned someday to make a film about his mentor, with himself portraying Barnett.
Just before the end of his first year in New York, Chappelle performed at the Montreal Comedy Festival. His success at that large event left no doubt that he was destined for a career in comedy. His dedication and nerve were tested during the early 1990s when he was booed off the stage during his standup comedy debut at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. However, in 1992 he won critical and popular acclaim for his television appearance in Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam on HBO. His popularity began to rise, and he became a regular guest on late-night television shows such as Politically Incorrect, The Late Show With David Letterman, The Howard Stern Show, and Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
In 1993 Chappelle landed his first film role: the Mel Brooks comedy Robin Hood: Men in Tights. He had small roles in several other films, but it was his role as the nasty comic Reggie Warrington in Eddie Murphy's 1996 film The Nutty Professor that brought him to the attention of Hollywood.
Suddenly Dave Chappelle was in demand for character roles, and he did several films in the next few years. In 1998, he co-wrote his first film, Half Baked, a tribute to Cheech and Chong, a comedy duo who had made a series of recreational-drug-related slapstick comedies during the late 1970s and 1980s. Though Half Baked enjoyed some success, Chappelle was disappointed with his first experience in filmmaking. He felt that the studio had weakened the film by trying to make it more acceptable to conservative audiences. He did not like losing control over his work, and this experience would influence his later choices.
Chappelle had dabbled in developing television pilots beginning in the early 1990s. After creating more than ten, one pilot, called Buddies, was picked up by ABC in the early 1990s. But as Chappelle recalled to 60 Minutes, as quoted on the CBS Web site: "It was a bad show. It was bad. I mean when we were doing it, I could tell this was not gonna work." Indeed, it aired for only 13 episodes before cancellation. As his comic popularity continued to rise, Chappelle attracted network attention. The FOX television network offered to build a situation comedy around Dave Chappelle's comedy in the late 1990s. Chappelle was interested, but when network executives began to suggest adding white characters to the cast in order to broaden the show's appeal, the comic withdrew from the deal. As much as possible, he would always refuse to compromise his principles or his comedy.
Chappelle continued to write and perform in films as well as on stage. In 2000 he did a very successful one-man show for HBO called Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly. In 2003 he was offered a chance to do television on his own terms. Comedy Central, a comedy network, offered Chappelle his own show. Chappelle's Show, a half-hour program, repeated several times each week, featured Chappelle and a cast of regulars and guests performing satirical skits. Cable television proved to be a more comfortable location for Chappelle's outrageous comedy, and the show soon developed a devoted following. Though no topic was safe from Chappelle's sharp satire, racism remained a major focus of his biting humor. His first show, for example, featured Chappelle playing a blind leader of a white supremacist movement who does not realize that he is black. Each half hour was packed with skits like "Race Draft," in which members of different races get to claim celebrities as their own, and "Ask a Black Dude," in which whites ask show regular Paul Mooney questions about being black.
Though Chappelle's Show is designed for hilarity, a very serious political message underlies the show's attacks on racism and bigotry. Even the musical guests reflect the show's hard-hitting social critique, by focusing on hip-hop artists, whose music contains pointed political messages and appreciation of black culture. Critics recognize the similarities between Chappelle's comedy and that of comedian Richard Pryor during the 1970s. Pryor's wife spoke for her ailing husband on 60 Minutes, saying that Pryor approves of Chappelle's work and has "passed the torch" to him. Chappelle's respect for Pryor showed in his response: "That's a lot of pressure. He was the best, man. For him to say that is, you know, that's something, I don't even know if I'll attempt to live up to that."
At a Glance …
Born David Chappelle on August 24, 1973 in Washington, D.C; married Elaine; two children.
Career: Comedian, 1987–; actor, 1992–.
Memberships: Screen Actors Guild.
Addresses: Web— www.davechapelle.com.
Despite his modesty, in the early 2000s Chappelle seemed well on his way to such super stardom. The DVD of the 2003 season of Chappelle's Show quickly became the best selling DVD of all time, surpassing the popular Simpsons cartoon show. In 2004 Comedy Central signed Dave Chappelle to a two-year contract to continue his show.
Undercover Blues, 1993.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights, 1993.
Getting In, 1994. Comedy: Coast to Coast, 1994.
The Nutty Professor, 1996.
Joe's Apartment, 1996.
Bowl of Pork, 1997.
The Real Blonde, 1997.
Damn Whitey, 1997.
Con Air, 1997.
You've Got Mail, 1998.
Half Baked, 1998.
Blue Streak, 1999.
200 Cigarettes, 1999.
Undercover Brother, 2002.
Def Comedy Jam, 1992.
Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly, 2000.
Chappelle's Show, 2003–.
Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth, 2004.
The Dana Carvey Show, 1996.
The Dave Chappelle Project, 1997.
Damn Whitey, 1997.
(With Neil Brennan) Half Baked, 1998.
Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly, 2000.
Chappelle's Show, 2003–.
Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth, 2004.
Jet, August 23, 2004, p. 37.
Dave Chappelle, www.davechapelle.com (January 21, 2005).
"Chappelle: 'An Act of Freedom," 60 Minutes, www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/10/19/60II/main650149.shtml (February 8, 2005).
"Chappelle's Show." Comedy Central, www.comedycentral.com/tv_shows?chappellesshow (January 21, 2005).
"Interview with Dave Chappelle." mulDoomstone Interviews, www.deathvalleydriver.com/muldoomstone/Chappelle.html (January 28, 2005).
Comedian, actor, and writer
Born August 24, 1973, in Washington, DC; son of William Chappelle (a voice teacher and college professor) and Yvonne Seon (a Unitarian minister and college instructor); children: two sons.
Addresses: Agent—United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Began performing in comedy clubs in the Washington, D.C., area, c. 1987; moved to New York City, c. 1990. Television appearances include: Home Improvement, ABC, 1995; Buddies, ABC, 1996; Late Night with Conan O'Brien (guest correspondent), NBC, 1998-99; Killin' Them Softly (special), HBO, 2000; Crank Yankers, Comedy Central, 2002; Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central, 2003—. Film appearances include: Robin Hood: Men in Tights, 1993; Undercover Blues, 1993; Getting In, 1994; The Nutty Professor, 1996; Joe's Apartment (voice), 1996; Damn Whitey, 1997; Bowl of Pork, 1997; Con Air, 1997; The Real Blonde, 1997; Half Baked, 1998; Woo, 1998; You've Got Mail, 1998; 200 Cigarettes, 1999; Blue Streak, 1999; Undercover Brother, 2002. Co-author of screenplays, including: Half Baked, 1998.
Dave Chappelle hosts the ferocious sketch-comedy series Chappelle's Show on cable's Comedy Central Network. On it, he warns viewers that they are watching "America's No. 1 Source for Offensive Comedy," because it features Chappelle and his fellow cast members in daring, often politically incorrect skits that poke fun at racial stereotypes in America. Since its debut in 2003, Chappelle's Show has garnered both a cult following and critical accolades. Yet its creator was pragmatic about his success. Referring to the courtroom drama occupying former superstar Michael Jackson, Chappelle noted to an audience in California that "one day people love you more than they've ever loved anything in the world," he reflected, according to a Sacramento Bee article by Jim Carnes. "And the next, you're in front of a courthouse dancing on top of a car."
Chappelle was born in 1973, in Washington, D.C., and grew up in one of the tougher areas of the nation's capital. He was the first of three children born to parents who were teachers. They divorced when he was six, but both remained a part of his life and strove to provide him and his siblings with the education and cultural awareness to succeed in life. "We had a picture of Malcolm X over the fire-place," Chappelle told St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Shauna Scott Rhone. "We were like the Huxtables with no money."
Chappelle was referring to television comedian Bill Cosby and the fictional Brooklyn family of Cosby's immensely successful 1980s NBC sitcom, The CosbyShow. He once read an article about Cosby's background, not so different in economic status from his own, and that inspired him to make a career out of being the joker in his family and circle of friends. By the time he started high school at the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District of Columbia, he was performing stand-up routines at area comedy clubs. Since he was underage, his mother—who was also an ordained minister—had to accompany him, but he said she had little problem with his hobby. "Crack was king in D.C., and kids my age were getting into incredible trouble," Chappelle explained to the Plain Dealer's Ed Condran. "So it was an easy choice—running the streets doing crack or telling jokes at a nightclub making a little money and getting a lot of experience."
Chappelle's controversial brand of humor did not always win over audiences, and he was once booed offstage during amateur night at New York's famed Apollo Theatre. Forgoing college, he moved to New York City after high school, and found a more receptive audience at a comedy club in Greenwich Village. By the early 1990s, he was being termed one of a new generation of comedians on the scene, and even cited in a 1993 Time article in which author Ginia Bellafante wondered if Chappelle was "the brand-new funny Dave," a reference to late-night king David Letterman.
The buzz caused networks and studios to come calling, and Chappelle was offered a number of deals. "I said yes to everything," he told Condran in the Plain Dealer interview. "I thought getting a TV show would help make me a star. Little did I know what the reality would be." His first bad experience came with a 1996 ABC sitcom called Buddies. The show emphasized the novelty of an interracial friendship between two Chicago guys trying to start their own film-production business, and although 13 episodes were made, only four ever aired.
Chappelle had better luck in films, beginning with roles in comedies like Robin Hood: Men in Tights in 1993 and Eddie Murphy's box-office hit of 1996, The Nutty Professor. He was eventually signed to a deal with the FOX Network, which gave him executive-producer control of what was slated to be an hourlong show. But network executives allegedly instructed him to diversify his cast, and Chappelle refused. He publicly accused FOX of racism for dictating how many Caucasians they wanted on the series, and the plug was pulled before the untitled project ever went on the air. Closer to home, Chappelle was also experiencing family issues. His father, William, who had become a music professor at an Ohio college, was ill at the time, debilitated by stroke-related complications that eventually took his life. "It was a lonely, scary time for me. I thought I was done," Chappelle told New York Times writer Lola Ogunnaike.
Hollywood remained intrigued by Chappelle's biting, satirical wit, and he wrote a movie with a friend of his from the Greenwich Village comedy-club days, Neal Brennan. Their stoner caper Half Baked received predictably lukewarm reviews, but developed a cult following in video and DVD release. In addition to regular appearances as a correspondent on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Chappelle also landed parts in films like You've Got Mail, Blue Streak, and Undercover Brother. HBO offered him his own special, Killin' Them Softly, which aired in 2000.
After Comedy Central offered him his own show, Chappelle returned to work on his original idea for a subversive sketch-comedy series. Chappelle's Show premiered on the cable channel in January of 2003, with Chappelle as host and introducing the taped sketches to a live studio audience. They spoofed everything from techno-music car commercials to popular Hollywood movies. One skit was a parody of a wholesome 1950s sitcom, but the family had an unusual name, which forced the actors to utter a controversial racial epithet over and over.
Chappelle's brand of no-holds-barred humor also included his recurring character "Tyrone," an unapologetic crack-cocaine addict. Another recurring joke presented fake-television news updates on the upheavals in the economy caused when reparations checks for slavery began to be issued by the U.S. government. "What fuels this spotty but often funny sketch-comedy series is a kind of laid-back indignation, a refusal to believe that ignoring racial differences will make anyone's life better," wrote New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell,
Chappelle's Show became the number-one-rated show on Comedy Central, but its popularity proved an obstacle in front of some stand-up audiences. In one Sacramento gig in June of 2004, hecklers kept shouting a punchline from a skit about R&B singer Rick James from the show, and Chappelle walked off the stage for two minutes. When he returned, he chastised the audience, and expressed frustration that his television show was hindering what he really loved: performing stand-up in front of a live audience. In trying to quell the hecklers, he told them that he realized why they liked the show. "Because it's good," Sacramento Bee writer Jim Carnes quoted him as saying. "You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong," Chappelle continued.
In May of 2004, Hyperion announced plans to publish Chappelle's first book, How to Play the Race Card and Win. He was still working on film projects, including one about a late New York street comic named Charlie Barnett who was an early mentor of his. The Rick James skit was also being shopped around to movie studios in the hopes of turning it into a feature-length film.
In August of 2004, it was announced that Chappelle had signed a $50 million deal with Comedy Central for two more seasons of his show. Under the deal's terms, Chappelle also received a large portion of the series' DVD sales. A collection of the first season of the show became the most successful television-related DVD ever. On September 18 of that year, he hosted a reunion of the R&B/rap group Fugees in Brooklyn, New York. The event was recorded for a concert film/documentary. Later that year, Chappelle hosted the Directors Guild of America Honors and Stevie Wonder's ninth annual House Full of Toys benefit. The start of the third season of Chappelle's Show was delayed because Chappelle came down with the flu. The new season was scheduled to debut February 16, 2005, along with the DVD release of the show's second season, but was moved to spring of that year.
Married and the father of two, Chappelle lives in an Ohio farmhouse far from the entertainment-industry epicenters. He credits his own parents for giving him the resources to succeed, including lots of reading materials and a sense of community. "They taught me that if you trust the world, you can do incredible things. I've seen a lot of things and could think the world's a terrible place, but I wasn't raised that way," he told Rhone in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.
Billboard, October 2, 2004, p. 20; December 18, 2004, p. 23.
Broadcasting & Cable, July 20, 1998, p. 45.
Daily Variety, October 27, 2003, p. 1.
Entertainment Weekly, May 10, 1996, p. S8; May 14, 2004, p. 72.
InStyle, December 1, 2004, p. 378.
Jet, December 21, 1998, p. 55.
New York Times, March 23, 2003, p. 24; February 18, 2004, p. E1.
People, March 9, 1998, p. 67; March 24, 2003, p. 22.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), April 5, 2003, p. 5.
Sacramento Bee, June 17, 2004.
Seattle Times, September 27, 2002, p. H5.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 1, 1999, p. E3; June 17, 2004.
Time, August 2, 1993, p. 63.
Variety, January 26, 1998, p. 67.
Washington Times, December 23, 2004, p. B6.
"Chappelle renews for $50 million," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/TV/08/03/television.chappelle.reut/index.html (March 2, 2005).
Chappelle, Dave 1973(?)–
CHAPPELLE, Dave 1973(?)–
Born August 24, 1973 (some sources say 1972), in Washington, DC; son of William (a voice teacher) and Seon (a Unitarian minister and professor) Chappelle; children: Sulayman. Education: Attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, DC.
Addresses: Agent—United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212; The Gersh Agency, 232 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Publicist—Baker Winokur Ryder, 9100 Wilshire Blvd., 6th Floor West, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Career: Actor, comedian, writer, and producer. Stand–up comedian, 1988—; Pilot Boy Productions, founder; appeared in television commercials for Right Guard Extreme deodorant, 2001, and Pepsi, 2003–04; appeared in radio commercials.
Awards, Honors: Image Award nomination, outstanding actor in a comedy series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2004, for Chappelle's Show.
(Uncredited) Kid on beach, The End of August (also known as The Awakening and The Awakening of Eve), 1982.
(As David Chappelle) Ozzie, Undercover Blues (also known as Cloak and Diaper), Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1993.
(As David Chappelle) Ahchoo, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (also known as Sacre Robin des bois), Twentieth Century–Fox, 1993.
(As David Chappelle) Ron, Getting In (also known as Student Body), Trimark Pictures, 1994.
Reggie Warrington, The Nutty Professor, Universal, 1996.
(As David Chappelle) Cockroach, Joe's Apartment, Warner Bros., 1996.
(As David Chappelle) Zee, The Real Blonde, Paramount, 1997.
(As David Chappelle) Dave, Damn Whitey, 1997.
(As David Chappelle) Bowl of Pork (also known as Black Forrest Gump), 1997.
(As David Chappelle) Joe "Pinball" Parker, Con Air, Buena Vista, 1997.
(As David Chappelle) Thurgood Jenkins and Sir Smoke–a–Lot, Half Baked, Universal, 1998.
(As David Chappelle) Lenny, Woo, New Line Cinema, 1998.
Kevin Scanlon, You've Got Mail (also known as You Have Mail), Warner Bros., 1998.
Rusty, Pittsburgh (also known as Ballbusted), 1999.
Disco cabbie, 200 Cigarettes (also known as The Islander), Paramount, 1999.
(As David Chappelle) Tulley, Blue Streak, Columbia, 1999.
(As David Chappelle) Open Mic, 2000.
(As David Chappelle) Rusty P. Hayes, Screwed, MCA/Universal, 2000.
Conspiracy brother, Undercover Brother, Universal, 2002.
(Uncredited; as David Chappelle) Half Baked, Universal, 1998.
Television Appearances; Series:
Dave Carlisle, Buddies, ABC, 1996.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, HBO Comedy Half–Hour, 1997.
Voice of Shavin, Crank Yankers, Comedy Central, 2002.
Host and various characters, Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central, 2003—.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Dave C, Dave Chappelle, Fox, 1998.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Six Comics in Search of a Generation, Lifetime, 1992.
Why Bother Voting?, PBS, 1992.
Comic Relief VI, HBO, 1994.
Himself, Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame, 1994.
(As David Chappelle) Comedian, Comedy: Coast to Coast, 1994.
The 1995 Young Comedians Show Hosted by Garry Shandling, HBO, 1995.
Reporter, Walt Disney World Happy Easter Parade, ABC, 1995.
Comics Come Home 2, Comedy Central, 1996.
Voice of Spider, Mother Goose: A Rappin' and Rhymin' Special (animated), HBO, 1997.
The Dave Chappelle Project, 1997.
Comic Relief VIII, HBO, 1998.
HBO Comedy Half–Hour: Dave Chappelle, HBO, 1998.
Host, Canned Ham: Half–Baked, Comedy Central, 1998.
Interviewee, Norman Jewison on Comedy in the 20th Century: Funny Is Money, Showtime, 1999.
Himself, Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly, HBO, 2000.
Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, HBO, 2001.
Interviewee, The Heroes of Black Comedy (documentary), Comedy Central, 2002.
Interviewee, VH1 Big in '03, VH1, 2003.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, Uncensored Comedy: That's Not Funny, Trio, 2003.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, Comedy Central Presents: The Commies, 2003.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, Essence Awards, Fox, 2003.
Spike TV Presents GQ Men of the Year Awards, Spike TV, 2003.
Richard Pryor: I Ain't Dead Yet,#*%$#@!!, Comedy Central, 2003.
Comedy Central's Bar Mitzvah Bash!, Comedy Central, 2004.
(In archive footage) Honoree, 100 Greatest Stand–Ups of All Time, Comedy Central, 2004.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam, HBO, 1992.
Guest host, Later, NBC, 1994.
Bachelor Dave, "Talk to Me," Home Improvement, ABC, 1994.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, The Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2003, and 2004.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, 1996.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, Where's Elvis This Week?, 1996.
Voice of himself, "Electric Bike," Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (animated), Comedy Central, 1997.
(As David Chappelle) Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 1998, 2003, and 2004.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, "Pilots and Pens Lost," The Larry Sanders Show, HBO, 1998.
(As David Chappelle) Himself, The Howard Stern Show, E! Entertainment Television, 2001.
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, 2002, 2003.
(As David Chappelle) Vincent, "The Favor," Wanda at Large, Fox, 2003.
Himself, Last Call with Carson Daly, NBC, 2004.
Also appeared in Politically Incorrect, ABC; Tough Crowd, Comedy Central.
Television Work; Series:
Executive producer, Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central, 2003—.
Television Work; Pilots:
Executive producer, Judge Paul Mooney, Comedy Central, 2004.
Television Work; Specials:
Executive producer, The Dave Chappelle Project, 1997.
Executive producer, Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly, HBO, 2000.
Damn Whitey, 1997.
(With others) Half Baked, 1998.
(With others) Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central, 2003—.
The Dave Chappelle Project, 1997.
Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly, HBO, 2000.
Broadcasting & Cable, July 20, 1998, p. 45.
Entertainment Weekly, May 10, 1996, p. S8.
Jet, April 14, 2003, p. 46.