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May 15, 2005

On Dave Chappelle

There's an old saying that people who talk don't know and people who know don't talk. The weird thing about Dave Chappelle is that I'm not sure I know what I know, but I feel compelled to talk. The more that I think I know what I know, the less I want to say, because it's better to say things to people face to face anyway.

This is all about two extraordinary evenings, one that I had with someone I know for sure is very close to Chappelle, and one with a man I remember as Dave himself, only I can't be positive. Let's start with the first.

Just a couple of months ago I had one of those lightning rod evenings where everything falls into place. I may have actually written something about it. And one of the dudes at the table was an extremely bright and level-headed young brother. A lot of things about him suggested to me a great deal of conscious reflection. He had something which reminded me of this thing I called 'programmers dyslexia'. When you ask a programmer or somebody with a sophisticated understanding of a complex system a seemingly simple question, they slow down their speech and give tentative kinds of answers. You can just see the gears whizzing in their heads as they try to answer just right, and suddenly a new idea springs into their head as if there was a new solution and the act of consideration changes things. And they have to try and settle on one answer with respect to the dynamic. In the end it looks just a little clumsy, especially if you have no idea of what the variables are. This cat was like that, except for the soul. When he rose to talk about relationships between people, you could tell that he was more perceptive than he let on and very respectful about what he said. In him I saw that quality of overthought when it came to people's souls.

Since I happen to know for a fact that this man is close to Dave, I am very secure in the knowledge that there is at least one person on this planet for whom Mr. Chappelle has someone who seems a good sounding board. On the other hand, sometimes decisions need to be made by someone with a strong stomach and instinctual courage. All circumspection aside, sometimes ass kicking is in order.

Of course it's impossible for someone at my distance to see if such an ass-kicking is necessary, and I'm not likely to find out. But if my interpretation of African American history is appropriate, as well as my appreciation of the existential dilemmas of the blackfolks of my generation, I think that somewhere there is an asshole that needs shutting down even if he's just a spectre inside of somebody's head. When, in fact, an ass-kicking must be delivered, it is absolutely essential that you have someone who overclocks their empathetic reasoning. And so for that reason, I knew that Dave Chappelle was never far from the influence of well-considered sanity.

And while there were certain visual clues to suggest that this extraordinary individual might very well be muslim, the explicit subject didn't arise. But in the wake of yesterday's Time article, I have put two and two together.

The second evening takes me back to New York in the 90s at 42nd and Lex. The Houlihan's which is basically like a TGIFriday's was the spot for the young, well-dressed and black that evening. I my particular frame of mind, I'd rather just have a beer. At some point, in alien-observation mode, me and another cat sitting across the way simultaneously busted out laughing at the parade of characters heading downstairs to the dance floor. For some unknown time, solidified in the ambers of memory, we started crackin' on people in the club, blackfolks in general, and hell just about everything. We busted each other up laughing half the night.

He told me he was a standup comic doing the New York thing. I knew he had the gift. I remember that man as Dave Chappelle. I only wish I had a diary entry to confirm it, because we were 'right there' in terms of the connection.

The other day I was listening to a black radio station and on it was a conversation between some editor/publisher of a magazine I think was called 'Sister Sister', the DJ and some black comic celebrity. They, like everyone else in that world, were sustaining the conversation about how impossible it is for 'everybody' to deal with black entertainers who have money. The conversation seemed to me incredibly stuck-up, paranoid and self-serving, and not the least because the participants defended Lil Kim's idiocy. As well, they remarked about Gerald Levert, who evidently has his own problems with the courts. I gather it is difficult for people who know very well that it is now KKBT who has incorporated 'Dont get it twisted' into their call sign shout out / motto, to see black entertainers as mere dismissible human beings. You've got to wonder what it is that keeps people buying the piss-boy's albums. (I heard his latest song that same day 'The Closet Part Two' - it was like a bad soap opera on wax.) Sometimes too many people don't realize stupidity is just stupidity.

There are two lessons that must be balanced. The first is: Give the people what they want. The second is: Sooner or later you get the audience you deserve.

I think of what discipline is in view of scarcity. I mean I don't have a hard time not running around being a fool playboy because I drive a Chevrolet. It's all I can afford. Can I honestly say that if I had that Porsche that I want, that I wouldn't find myself cruising Sunset Boulevard? I strongly believe that I have the discipline, but maybe I don't. It's not the kind of test I've been given.

So when I think of Dave's dilemma with regard to doing the kind of work he wants, it's difficult to say what kind of money makes the difference. On the one hand, he's paid to be at the top of his game, and now is the time to wrest some permanent scratch from the machines that deliver cashflow from ever changing demands of disposable income. It's good enough to be proud that machine works. On the other hand, Dave has already bought the farm, so to speak. He's made the move Bobby Brown found impossible to make, which is to throw down some cash and get property back off the road so deep that you never hear the booming jeeps. Why put yourself in the middle of drama city if you are truly a man of peace? Chappelle has proven that he knows when to walk away and call a spade a spade. On the other hand, who is he standing up in front of?

I've written more times with less depth on Chappelle than I recall, as I use the old search engine on myself I find the following.

  • Chocolate Covered Fish
  • Curses
  • Rick James, Bitch
  • Chappelle

    So I guess I'm one of those people who wonders when Chappelle is going to give up hiphop and the shallow crowd that worships it. I mean just look at the comments I get from 'Rick James Bitch'. The power is in the honest, funny vulgarity. But how long do you feed that monster, and who owns whom? That's why you have to be a pilgrim. You have to form a kind of detachment that allows you to go anywhere. That's when you know you transcend. When you can let go of something for 3 years and then come back. Just keep that farm.

    I'm going to go on some more about this, but honestly I've got sick computers, restless children, a plane to catch and a huge meeting tomorrow.

    Posted by mbowen at May 15, 2005 11:32 AM

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    I thought about sending homeboy an email, but changed my mind. I might change it back.

    Discipline has a great deal to do with this. I've got a good friend who recently got tenure at one of the best spots in the country. Because they flubbed the deal, they had to give him everything but the kitchen sink. He's now got the resources to pursue every single research interest he had IMMEDIATELY.

    We had a talk about this, and we'll revisit it, but it seems to me that in that situation the best way to act is to act as if you don't have the resources. Fake it like you HAVEN'T made it. Chappelle's problem is kind of like that--and the money is only a proxy for something much larger.

    Posted by: Lester Spence at May 15, 2005 02:30 PM

    Repost, to Booker Rising.

    First off, its nice to see a celebrity who keeps his own counsel, a rarity in our society these days.
    Let's remember that Dave came on serious moneymaking fame pretty quickly and that's a lot to handle. With a 50 million-dollar payday coming you have to think there's suddenly a lot of people looking to get their cut. So probably right about now Dave's thinking, I have no idea who to F**king trust. Time to split and reevaluate. Get some African foo-foo and relax in the shade.

    As far as I'm concerned Dave Chapelle is easily the best comic working today. His humor is cutting edge the way Richard Pryor's once was. And like the ghetto baby selling reefer on the corner he talks about in his act, Dave would seemingly have it all down. But I think we know how vulnerable people in these situation can be, judging only by the number of people who self-destruct under this kind of pressure.

    Dave's got my support, because he's raised the level of entertainment out there, and that's always a good thing.

    Posted by: Aaron at May 16, 2005 01:24 AM