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Dave Chappelle Keeps It Real

Dave Chappelle at Radio City Music Hall

Yes, boys and girls, he’s back. One of the greatest comedians of his generation, revered by his peers (both Katt Williams and Kevin Hart have said they consider him to be the greatest living comedian), Dave Chappelle is presently in the middle of a glorious return with a set of nine shows at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. The last four shows were added due to the ravenous demand, with the first five reportedly selling out in five minutes. For these additional shows Dave will be joined by some of the biggest names in hip-hop, kicking off tonight (Monday) with a set from Nas. The Roots will be joining him on Tuesday, Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monae and DJ Premiere on Wednesday and Erykah Badu for the closing night. The word from the early shows is that Chappelle is back and on fire, with fresh material and a renewed love for the stage.

There’s been a lot of talk of the musical guests at these shows being much like a reunion from the movie Block Party, with Kanye and The Roots leading the way. I remember seeing Block Party in the theater and feeling passionately excited about it. I knew that Dave had created something special and the core of that movie, the real heart that brings it together is Dave’s, for lack of a better word, realness. Traveling between NY and Ohio, gathering performers and audience members, Dave’s calm, unjaded everyman expressed a sincere desire to connect with people, to avoid the separation that often comes with being rich, famous, talented and successful. There’s a purity to Dave that draws in both his fans and his celebrity associates (who are also his fans), and it can be seen in the movie’s comradery and in the excitement for a concert that many involved know little about before it actually happens.block party cover

As a fan and as an entertainer, Dave feels a real connection between music and comedy, with a special love for hip-hop, talking about it in Block Party as he sits in a Salvation Army playing an out of tune, broken piano.
“All comedians want to be musicians,” he says, “and all musicians think they’re funny.”  The guest list for his upcoming shows does indeed play much like a reunion from that movie, but that is less bred from an urge to promote the artists and groups with whom he is friends and more from the fact that these acts create a particular vibe that both Dave the music fan and Mr. Chappelle the master of ceremonies are actively seeking. During his Tonight Show interview last week he talked about meeting The Roots (for the second time) at a recording session at Electric Lady Studios. On the various floors of the studio that was once home to Jimi Hendrix, D’Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and Mos Def and The Roots were working in separate and intermingled sessions and it was from this meeting that Chappelle would take the acts for the entire first season of his show.

In promotion of his return, Dave has made stops at most of the major talk show outlets. After some great conversations with Fallon and Letterman, on Wednesday Dave “crashed” the Today Show, banging on the windows and holding up signs displaying his show dates. His conversation on The Late Show centered heavily on Letterman digging into the reasons for Chappelle’s departure and hiatus a decade ago. It’s actually an interesting interview with Dave speaking candidly about his complicated feelings on leaving his lucrative and hilarious show behind. In it he claims to simply be “seven years late for work” and describes leaving his show like getting a divorce in the 50’s. “People didn’t go to divorce court, they’d just look at their wife like, ‘Baby, I’m gonna 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.”

During his Jimmy Fallon interview, Dave relates a hilarious story about meeting Kanye West for the first time as a guest on the Chappelle Show just after College Dropout had come out. West, who joined Dave for a surprise 3-song set at his Friday night show, was relatively unknown at that point but Chappelle asserts that even then he knew Kanye was destined for stardom. I won’t go through the entire interview, but “Because my life is dope and I do dope shit” is my new line. Watch the interview here:

Perhaps my favorite thing about Chappelle’s over-hyped, over-critiqued (for better and worse) exit from the limelight in 2005 is that he did what few celebrities (or anyone, for that matter) ever do- walk away when there is a lot of money and easy success on the table. Who’s to say if Dave would’ve been able to pull off a third season of the Chappelle Show, but the idea of walking away in order to spend time with one’s family and maintain one’s sense of self speaks to a balance of priorities and grounded sense of reality that is admirable and increasingly uncommon. Here’s hoping that as he returns Dave Chappelle continues to keep it real. Because we all know what can happen when keeping it real goes wrong…

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