"If anything like Robin Williams ever happened to me, suspect foul play": Dave Chappelle gives his first in-depth interview in over a decade

Chappelle talks to GQ about quitting "Chappelle's Show" and why he doesn't think Sterling should have lost the team

Published November 18, 2014 9:00PM (EST)
Dave Chappelle       (AP/Brad Barket)
Dave Chappelle (AP/Brad Barket)

For GQ’s annual Man of the Year Issue, Dave Chappelle gave his first in-depth interview in over a decade, ever since he walked out on "Chappelle's Show" back in 2005, abandoning his fans -- and $50 million -- in favor of a life lived away from the limelight. It's been near radio silence until last spring, when Chappelle reemerged into the public eye with a set of 10 sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall. And by the looks of things, he might just be sticking around: The Chappelle that GQ interviewer Mark Anthony Green speaks to appears to have been born anew, smiling like an "irrepressible-little-kid,” pulling good-natured pranks on guests at the Four Seasons and engaging warmly with strangers. As Green writes, "Watching him wreak havoc on L.A. for a few days, I started to think maybe we've had things all wrong about Dave Chappelle.” Here are the highlights:

What shows he would like to guest-star on:
I'd be a zombie in "The Walking Dead." A corpse on CSI. I'd be the first black guy to fuck Olivia Pope on "Scandal" ...

On whether Idris Elba actually used to sell weed at Carolines Comedy Club, as rumored:
Oh, okay. So he used to work at Carolines. During that era of my life, there's a high possibility that I bought reefer from Idris. Fast-forward to when I was doing "Chappelle's Show." Idris would come to the set sometimes. Not the set where we'd be filming sketches, but the set when we did the live portion of the show and we showed the audience sketches. It used to be a real hot ticket in New York. There's a lot of women who used to work on the show ... all very professional, with the single exception when Idris would come around. It doesn't matter how big a star would be on the show, when he came around, women would just lose their goddamn minds.

On Kanye's surprise performance at Radio City with him:
No one was more surprised than me when he did the surprise performance during my Radio City show. It was weird. You know what he said after the fact, which I thought was funny? He said, "Why wasn't I on the show in the first place? Like, why wasn't I booked?" So I don't know what happened via the machinery. It also could be that Kanye's like a girl that's so pretty, nobody asks her to the dance. You know what I mean? I knew the day before that he was coming to see the show. Then, as I was walking onstage, right before I went on, Kanye was there and was like, "Yo, can I rock with y'all?" And I thought he meant in general—like, "Yeah, man, always! We all cool for life! Blah blah blah." Talking all that shit. And then afterwards, when I say good night, I looked up. Kanye is actually onstage, standing there with a microphone in his hand. I was like, "This is nuts.”

On Kanye’s comments that the invasion of privacy and dealing with paparazzi is like the civil rights struggle.
I think that he's right in the sense that scrutiny in and of itself is oppressive. If someone sits there and stares at you while you eat, you won't even eat the way you normally do, because it'll make you so uncomfortable. If I look at my dog when he's eating, he will look at me like, "Dave, I will bite you. What are you looking at? I'm trying to eat." It's something that dehumanizes a person, being on display like that. So is it like the civil rights movement? Not quite. The metrics are a little wrong to make that comparison. But it is a civil rights issue, in a sense. Because how is he supposed to live his life? It's like someone putting their ear to your butt and being like, "Ew, you farted!" Stop listening to my asshole!

On who’s in his personal gallery of selfies:
Kanye, Kim, Jay and Beyoncé. Jessica Alba. There's a great picture from Radio City of me, Chris Rock, and Aziz. Selfies are my shit. I love taking selfies.... Rob Ford.

On Donald Sterling:
Ultimately, I don't think he should have lost his team. I don't like the idea that someone could record a secret conversation and that a person could lose their assets from that, even though I think what he said was awful. When you think about the intimacy of a situation, like, can a man just chill with his mistress in peace?* I just don't like when things like that happen, because if they take shit away for things that people say that are objectionable, I may not have anything in a few years. Granted, I don't think I say shit like "Stop bringing white people to my game.”

On his falling out with "Chappelle's Show” co-creator Neal Brennan:
We've always had a strange friendship, but I don't think it was ever as icy as people thought it was publicly. We just almost never talked about it. Like, "Let's just not. We're just not gonna agree on certain shit, so let's just not." It was a valuable friendship above and beyond whatever work we did together. He's an important part of my life. So I don't think that will ever really change.

On the criticisms of Tyler Perry that have been levied by members of the black community, such as Spike Lee:
Well, I can't see how my life is harder because Tyler Perry exists. You know? I mean, I can certainly debate the artistic merits of his movies or the lack thereof, but to me that's almost an irrelevant conversation, because I'm more impressed with what he was able to achieve. And I think that if I were Spike Lee, maybe I'd have certain issues. But I'm not mad at Tyler Perry. I'm happy there was a Spike; I'm happy there was a Tyler. I'm not gonna say, "Oh, I love Tyler Perry movies." But that's kind of not the point. There are people who do love those movies, so why shouldn't somebody be making shit for them? Spike's not gonna make that movie for them.

On needing more "vitamin love” than others, as Oprah once put it:
I have to say that comedians by and large are some of the most sensitive people on earth. Even if they're socially callous. If you sat at the back of a comedy club and just heard the way we banter, you wouldn't know that these were sensitive people, 'cause it's such an open-air market of ideas. The other night, I was talking about Robin Williams with Bob Goldthwait, and people kept coming up to me saying, "Hey, Dave! Man, thanks for coming. We loved the show, it was so good to see you, blah blah blah." Real nice things. And I go, "That's very kind of you. Thank you." And I look back at Bob, and he goes, "See, not everybody lets that shit in." Maybe Robin Williams was one of those people who, even though everyone loved him, the praise just didn't penetrate.

Why he quit "Chappelle’s Show":
That's a heavy question. It's like the Mos Def lyric, Why did one straw break the camel's back? Here's the secret: the million other straws underneath it. I'm not such a waify dude that, like, just one thing could break me.

The biggest misconception about his departure from "Chappelle's Show"?
Here's one funny thing: People are always like, "I heard you moved to Africa." And in reality I was only there for about two weeks. I was on "vacation." I don't want to be too specific, but it wasn't even like I necessarily left. I wasn't like, "I'm leaving and I'm never coming back." It wasn't necessarily that kind of thing.

On how he decided to do his 10-show run at Radio City: 
I have a show-business bucket list. There's just certain things that every entertainer always dreamed of doing. When I was 19, I used to walk up Sixth Avenue and look at the marquee of Radio City. I'd see the lines outside. I'd be like, "Man, I just want to... Radio City!" So then, last year, when I started going on the road, it was just because I wanted to be on the road, at first. There's something cathartic about touring—it feels good to just engage people that way. But then, as it was progressing, I was like, "Well, this should all go somewhere. Where am I going with this?" It just so happened the venue was open during the same time frame I was willing to play. The venue opened up for an astounding ten days. And I said, "Well, can we do all ten? You know, can I even do that business? I haven't played New York in so long." I didn't want to pass up on the opportunity.

On what’s next:
I have all these weird fantasies. Going coast-to-coast on my motorcycle and having random barbecues all over America. No show, no nothing…. I just like seeing people, man. I just like meeting people. I like finding out new walks of life and new ideas. Sometimes I just like not doing shit and not being shit. Like, it doesn't all have to be so serious with me. I can revert back to my adolescence in an instant. I get on those video games.

On whether he's happy:
Right now in L.A. with the sun shining on me? Talking about GQ Men of the Year? Yeah! I'm happy. It's a good day. It's a very good day. You know, I have angst in my life, but I'm like anybody. We all have angst in our lives that we pick up and fidget with and then we put down and look at some other things that make us feel good or enjoy our lives. Today I'm happy, yeah. Some days I am not happy, but I'm not necessarily sad. What I'm trying to say is that if anything like Robin Williams ever happened to me, suspect foul play.* [GQ indicates that he has a “shit-eating grin” on his face]

When asked whether Radio City was the end of of something, or a new beginning:
Wow, that's a really good question. Every ending is a beginning, and vice versa. So I guess it has the connotation of a sunset, because of the bucket-list analogy. There was something very definitive about it. In other words, for me to leave this show the way I did and then to sell, like, 60,000 tickets in New York City is a pretty big deal. And what was crazy was that if the venue were available longer, we could have kept going. So if it was the end of something, it would definitively be the end of any doubt that there was something real between me and the audience of people. 'Cause you do doubt that, especially if you're, you know, sequestered. I'll say it like this: There's still some shit on the list. I still got some shit on my bucket list.


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