Saturday, February 04, 2006

Chappelle on Oprah

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For the first time since never, I rushed home to watch a rerun of Oprah Friday night. And it wasn’t because she was having another guest jump on her couches either. Oprah’s show yesterday had the renowned comedian, Dave Chappelle, as its guest.

Chappelle is without a doubt one of the funniest people on television, but in this particular show we saw a very serious side of him. Yesterday’s show gave Chappelle an opportunity to validate the plethora of rumors that have surrounded his decision to leave Comedy Central and a 50 million dollar contract. But more importantly, it was the first time that I heard Chappelle acknowledge that his show had a greater agenda. He also alluded to the fact that his show was intended for a particular audience that would not only understand the humor, but also understand the larger underlying issues that were often veiled by the humor.

One of the tipping points for Chappelle’s “walk out” took place when he was filming the 3rd Season. In filming one particular sketch with a character in blackface, one of Chappelle’s white employees guffawed in such a way that made Chappelle feel uncomfortable. It was at this moment that Chappelle realized that everyone watching his show was laughing and that maybe everyone shouldn’t be laughing. This brings me to my first question: Why did the Chappelle Show sketches like “The Nigger Family” in particular, make many of us brothers feel uncomfortable? I think each one of us has had the experience where an acquaintance or friend, who was not black, recited lines from this sketch. Why wasn’t it okay for others to enjoy these sketches as much as our black friends did?

Another tipping point for Chappelle was his realization that his sketches were taking a life of their own. “I was doing sketches that were funny but socially irresponsible.” At the same time, however, Chappelle seemed to entertain the idea of coming back to do a third season. His return, however, would be contingent on several factors. One of these would be that half his DVD sale’s revenue would go back to the people. My second question: Should he complete the third season? And if he does return to comedy central, does his contribution of half his DVD sale’s revenue to charitable causes nullify his self-proclaimed “socially irresponsible” sketches?


Anonymous said...

I think it is amazing and incredibly strong of him to "not be bought".

Very inspiring.

Brother Lightness said...

The prevailing justification that gives blacks license to reenact scenes from skits such as “The Nigger Family” is based purely upon the satire that you make reference to. In accepting the notion that the “larger underlying issues [are] often veiled by humor”, blacks find a commonality in experience and understanding that is far more complex than the simple sketch comedy Chappelle offers.

Not to trivialize the work of W.E.B DuBois, but for many blacks, watching Dave Chappelle in action is equivalent to an exercise of double-consciousness. Blacks laugh for 2 reasons: 1) on a very base level the content is humorous because it’s so very extreme. This piece of the humor bears particular similarity to the American “shock jock” radio culture that Howard Stern defined, and Star, of the “Star and Buc Wild morning radio show”, has perfected. 2) On a much less visible level, the humor raises those greater social issues that the conservative majority has an easy time dismissing and excusing as reality (i.e. black drug abuse, blatant racism, misogny). The majority of Chappelle’s viewing audience doesn’t see these realities on a regular basis and can easily ignore them, while those audience members who are doubly-conscious can laugh because they know that a voice –albeit humorous—has been given to their plight, which is hardly laughable in reality.

Those audience members who do laugh are able to identify with those issues being raised in their actual lives. How many members of the black viewing audience actually have seen their friends or family members strung out on crack like Tyrone Biggums? I presume the proportion of black viewers with experiences similar to those depicted on Chappelle’s show versus those white viewers with similar experiences is significantly disproportionate.

Considering this, Chappelle’s comedy should seriously be considered as relief for the fatigued black soul that cannot afford the luxury of dismissing these very pressing social issues within its own communities. This is why it is troubling to see and watch our acquaintances or white friends, so easily recite what they have seen. Recitation comes much more quickly than reflection on these issues.

In response to your second question: As much as I admire Chappelle, he appears to have bitten off much more than he can chew in his offer to donate revenue from his DVD sales in a socially responsible manner. The most relevant question to ask in examining Chappelle’s offer is who, or what organization, would be fitting to be philanthropic towards?—one that services downtrodden crackheads, pimps and hustlers? I’m not sure I am familiar with an organization that caters to this crowd and doubt one will ever be formed.

Generally, I’m sure that Chappelle would be more than willing to offer his funds to any progressive black organization that makes an attempt to chart a feasible path to progress for black America, while the general lack of cohesive thought on the matter within the black community would prohibit any absolute course of action.