All hail Dave Chappelle: The true king of comedy returns, just in time

Netflix released two new comedy specials from Chappelle this week, reminding us what we've been missing

By D. Watkins
March 22, 2017 2:58AM (UTC)
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Dave Chappelle (Netflix)

Netflix released two new Dave Chappelle stand-up comedy specials on Tuesday morning. "The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at The Hollywood Palladium" and "Deep in the Heart of Texas: Dave Chappelle Live at Austin City Limits" are two-thirds of the output from Chappelle's reported $60 million deal with the online streaming platform.

Most know Chappelle from Comedy Central’s "Chappelle's Show," a cool, creative mix of stand-up and sketch comedy featuring Chappelle and other comedians poking fun at issues related to celebrity, culture, politics and a range of social justice issues. The show, which premiered in 2003 and aired for two full seasons and one truncated final run of "lost" episodes, was an instant classic, leaving us with countless quotes that still get tossed around, including his iconic Rick James impersonation.


We thought we’d have Dave on Comedy Central forever, which is why it was so surprising when he walked away from a $50 million dollar deal with the network in 2005. Rumors swirled about mental illness or drugs, but Chappelle later linked his decision to a loss of creative control.

When Chappelle sat down for an interview with Gayle King on "CBS This Morning" on Monday, King pointed out that his decision to leave Comedy Central in 2005 was “so much bigger than money.” He responded with a nature analogy.

"I watched one of these nature shows one time, and they were talking about how a Bushman finds water when it's scarce," he told King. "And they do what's called a salt trap. I didn't know this; apparently baboons love salt. So they put a lump of salt in the hole and they wait for a baboon. The baboon comes, sticks his hand in the hole, grabs the salt, the salt makes his hand bigger and he's trapped, can't get his hand out."


The baboon, Chappelle said, is placed in a cage and given "all the salt he wants" until it becomes thirsty.

"The first place the baboon runs to is water, the Bushman follows him, and they both drink to their fill," Chappelle said. "In that analogy, I felt like the baboon, but I was smart enough to let go of the salt."


Chappelle also talked to King about how his decision to walk away helped him find peace in Africa and develop a more meaningful relationship with his family. That sounds like the Dave I've loved since his "Half Baked" days.

I can’t believe Chappelle sat the whole Barack Obama era out and wasn’t even active during the rise of transracial Rachel Dolezal: Where would she have been placed in the racial draft? But he's back now, and I can highly recommend both of these specials. Chappelle delivers the realness of Chris Rock mixed with George Carlin-style insight, and that extra edge that is his alone, from calling Bill Cosby "the Steph Curry of rape" to explaining his inability to believe that transgender people have surpassed African-Americans in the race to equality.


Some of the content is more provocative than a Donald Trump sound bite. The difference is that Chappelle is a comedian telling jokes and, well, Trump is the president, giving us new reasons every day to look for humor. With four years ahead of more fake news, easy targets like Uncle Ben Carson and the new-and-improved Glenn Beck, not to mention the hyper-right-wing pundits like Tomi Lahren and Alex Jones who seem more like comedians than journalists, we're going to need it.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

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