Dave Chappelle

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Not to be confused with David LaChapelle.
Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle (cropped).jpg
Dave Chappelle, 2007
Birth name David Khari Webber Chappelle
Born (1973-08-24) August 24, 1973 (age 42)
Washington, D.C., U.S.[1]
Medium Stand-up, television, film
Nationality American
Years active 1991–present
Genres Satire/political satire, improvisational comedy, character comedy, observational comedy, surreal humor, sketch comedy, black comedy, blue comedy
Subject(s) Racism, race relations, American politics, African-American culture, pop culture, recreational drug use, human sexuality, morality
Influences Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Mel Blanc[2]
Spouse Elaine Chappelle (2001–present; 3 children)
Notable works and roles Himself and Various in Chappelle's Show
Himself in Dave Chappelle's Block Party
Achoo in Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Thurgood Jenkins in Half Baked
Signature Dave Chapelle Signature.svg

David Khari Webber "Dave" Chappelle[3](/ʃəˈpɛl/, born August 24, 1973) is an American comedian, screenwriter, producer, and actor. After beginning his film career in 1993 as Ahchoo in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights, he landed major supporting roles in box office hits including The Nutty Professor, Con Air, and Blue Streak. His first lead role was in the 1998 comedy film Half Baked, directed by Tamra Davis and co-written by Neal Brennan and Chappelle himself.

In 2003, he became more widely known for his sketch comedy television series, Chappelle's Show, co-written with Neal Brennan, which ran until his retirement from the show two years later. By 2006, Chappelle was called "the comic genius of America" by Esquire[1] and, in 2013, "the best" by a Billboard writer.[4] The show continues to run in popular late-night syndication and on television networks around the world. Comedy Central ranks him No. 43 in the "100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time."[5]

He lives with his family in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and continues to perform stand-up.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Chappelle was born in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 1973, the youngest of three.[1] His father, William David Chappelle III, worked as a statistician before becoming a professor at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.[2] His mother, Yvonne (née Reed), is biracial,[7] and was a professor at Howard University, Prince George's Community College, and the University of Maryland, and is also a Unitarian Universalist minister.[8] Chappelle also has a stepmother and a stepbrother.[1] He has stated his grandparents are multiracial from rape.[7]

Chappelle grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and attended Woodlin Elementary School.[2] His parents were politically active, and the family house was visited by notable individuals including Pete Seeger and Johnny Hartman.[1] The latter predicted he would be a comedian and, around this time, Chappelle's comic inspiration came from Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. After his parents separated, Chappelle stayed in Washington with his mother while spending summers with his father in Ohio. In 1991, he graduated from Washington's Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where he studied theatre arts.[2]

Early career[edit]

Chappelle moved to New York City to pursue a career as a comedian. He gathered the courage to perform at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater in front of the infamous "Amateur Night" audience, but he was booed off stage. Chappelle described the experience as the moment that gave him the courage to continue his show business aspirations.[2] He quickly made a name for himself on the New York comedy circuit, even performing in the city's parks. Whoopi Goldberg nicknamed him "The Kid."[1] At 19, he made his film debut as "Ahchoo" in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights. He also appeared on Star Search three times but lost over competing comedian Lester Barrie; Dave later joked about the irony of him subsequently becoming more successful than Barrie. The same year, Chappelle was offered the role of Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue in Forrest Gump. Concerned the character was demeaning and the movie would bomb, he turned down the part.[9][10] He parodied the film in the 1997 short "Bowl of Pork," where a dim-witted black man is responsible for the Rodney King beating, the LA riots and OJ Simpson being accused of murder.[11] Chappelle played another supporting role in an early Doug Liman film, Getting In in 1994.[12] At age 19, he was the opening act for R&B soul singer Aretha Franklin.[13]

He attracted the attention of TV network executives and developed numerous pilots, but none were picked up for series.[2][14] In 1995, he made a guest appearance on an episode of ABC's popular sitcom Home Improvement. The storyline had Chappelle and real-life friend and comedian Jim Breuer ask Tim Taylor for advice on their girlfriends.[15] The characters' single outing in the episode proved so popular that ABC decided to give them their own spin-off sitcom titled Buddies. However, after taping a pilot episode, Jim Breuer was fired and replaced with actor Christopher Gartin. Buddies premiered in March 1996 to disappointing ratings. The show was canceled after only five episodes out of 13 that were produced.

After the failure of Buddies, Chappelle starred in another pilot. According to Chappelle, the network was uncomfortable with the African-American cast and wanted white actors added.[16] Chappelle resisted and subsequently accused the network of racism. Shortly afterwards, Chappelle's father died and he returned to Ohio, considering leaving the entertainment business.[2][14]

He later appeared as a nightclub comedian in the 1996 comedy The Nutty Professor starring Eddie Murphy, one of his major comedic influences. The movie grossed nearly $129 million on a budget of $54 million.[17] He had a minor role in 1997's Con Air which made $26 million after production costs.[18] At the beginning of 1998, he did a stand-up performance for HBO Comedy Half-Hour. That same year, he appeared in "Pilots and Pens Lost," a 1998 episode of The Larry Sanders Show's sixth season, in which he and the executives of the show's unnamed television network satirized the treatment to which scriptwriters and show creators were subjected, as well as the executives' knee-jerk tendencies toward racial stereotypes.[19]

He and Neal Brennan co-wrote the 1998 cult stoner film Half Baked, Chappelle's first starring role, about a group of marijuana-smoking friends trying to get their other friend out of jail. It made money at the box office and remains a classic so-called "stoner" film (a genre that includes the "Cheech and Chong" films as well as more recent fare like Judd Apatow's Pineapple Express).[20][21] In December 1998, Chappelle appeared as Tom Hanks' character's friend and confidant in You've Got Mail. The $65 million movie made nearly $116 million at the box office.[22] In 1999, he appeared in the Martin Lawrence film Blue Streak, which made $68.5 million at the box office.[23]

In 2000, Chappelle recorded his first hour-long HBO special, Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly, in Washington, DC. He followed this up with an appearance as "Conspiracy Brother" in the 2002 racial satire Undercover Brother.[24]

2003–2006: Standup and Chappelle's Show[edit]

Main article: Chappelle's Show

In 2003, Chappelle debuted his own weekly sketch comedy show on Comedy Central called Chappelle's Show. The show parodied many aspects of American culture, including racial stereotypes, politics and pop culture. Along with comedy skits, the show also featured musical performances by mostly hip-hop and soul artists. He promoted the work of other black comedians as well, most notably Paul Mooney and Charlie Murphy.[7]

Due to the show's popularity, Comedy Central's new parent company Viacom[1] reportedly offered Chappelle a $55 million contract (giving Chappelle a share of DVD sales) to continue production of Chappelle's Show for two more years, while allowing him to do side projects. Chappelle has said that sketches are not his favorite form of comedy,[1] and that the characteristics of the show's format were somewhat like short films.

In June 2004, based on the popularity of the "Rick James" sketch, it was announced that Chappelle was in talks to portray James in a biopic from Paramount Pictures, also owned by Viacom.[25] James's estate disagreed with the proposed comical tone of the film and put a halt to the talks.[26]

That same month, Chappelle recorded his second comedy special, this time airing on Showtime, Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth, at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium, where his idols, including Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Robin Williams, had performed. He joked about the city being "the gayest place on earth," touched upon an encounter on a public bus, in a New Mexico Wal-Mart, smoking in a strip club, and cultural differences in food and other topics.

Season 3 turbulence[edit]

In a June 2004 stand-up performance in Sacramento, California, Chappelle walked off the stage after berating his audience for constantly shouting "I'm Rick James, bitch!", which became a catchphrase from his popular "Rick James" sketch. After a few minutes, Chappelle returned and resumed by saying, "The show is ruining my life." He stated that he disliked working "20 hours a day" and that the popularity of the show was making it difficult for him to continue his stand-up career, which was "the most important thing" to him. He told the audience:

You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.[27]

Season 3 was scheduled to air on May 31, 2005, but in that month, Chappelle stunned fans and the entertainment industry when he abruptly left during production of the third season of Chappelle's Show and took a trip to South Africa.[1] Chappelle said that he was unhappy with the direction the show had taken.

Coming here, I don't have the distractions of fame. It quiets the ego down. I'm interested in the kind of person I've got to become. I want to be well rounded and the industry is a place of extremes. I want to be well balanced. I've got to check my intentions, man.[28]

Immediately following Chappelle's departure, tabloids quickly and repeatedly speculated that Chappelle's exit was driven by drug addiction or a mental health issue, rather than ethical or personal concerns.[28] In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Chappelle expressed his contempt for the entertainment industry's tone-deafness toward black entertainers and audiences:

When I see that they put every black man in the movies in a dress at some point in their career, I start connecting the dots.[29][30]

The break from Comedy Central also meant a rift with longtime collaborator Neal Brennan[1] as well as walking away from a $50 million contract.[7]

Dave Chappelle's Block Party[edit]

Chappelle was the star and a producer of the Michel Gondry-directed documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party, which chronicles him hosting a free concert in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn on September 18, 2004.[1] Several musical artists, including Kanye West, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Dead Prez and Jill Scott, are featured in the movie both performing in the concert and in conversation off-stage. He brought Yellow Springs residents to Brooklyn at his own expense.[1] Another surprising highlight of the event was the (temporary) reunion of popular 1990s hip-hop group The Fugees.[31]

Chappelle toured several cities in February and March 2006 to promote the film under the name "Block Party All-Stars featuring Dave Chappelle". Universal Pictures' genre division, Rogue Pictures, released the film in the U.S. on March 3, 2006. It was a success, grossing a total of $11.7 million on a $3 million budget.[32]

2005–present: stand-up and TV appearances[edit]

Work and media appearances, 2005–06[edit]

In June 2005, Chappelle performed impromptu stand-up shows in Los Angeles.[8][33][34] He then went on a tour that began in Newport, Kentucky, not far from his Ohio home.[35] He made a surprise appearance on HBO's Def Poetry, where he performed two poems, titled "Fuck Ashton Kutcher" and "How I Got the Lead on Jeopardy!".[citation needed] He was interviewed for Inside the Actors Studio on December 18, 2005, at Pace University's Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts. The show premiered on February 12, 2006.[2] Four days prior, he introduced the musical tribute to Sly Stone at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards.[1]

Chappelle said on Inside the Actors Studio that the death of his father seven years prior had an impact on his decision to go to South Africa. By throwing himself into his work, he had not taken a chance to mourn his father's death. He also said the rumors that he was in drug or psychiatric treatment only persuaded him to stay in South Africa.[2] He said,

I would go to work on the show and I felt awful every day, that's not the way it was. ... I felt like some kind of prostitute or something. If I feel so bad, why keep on showing up to this place? I'm going to Africa. The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everybody is watching.[2]

Chappelle said that he felt some of his sketches were "socially irresponsible."[29][36] He singled out the "pixie sketch" in which pixies appear to people and encourage them to reinforce stereotypes of their races. In the sketch, Chappelle is wearing blackface and is dressed as a character in a minstrel show.[37] According to Chappelle, during the filming of the sketch, a white crew member was laughing in a way that made him feel uncomfortable and made him question himself.[29][36] Chappelle said, "It was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me."[29]

During these interviews, Chappelle did not rule out returning to Chappelle's Show to "finish what we started," but promised that he would not return without changes to the production, such as a better working environment. He desired to donate half of the DVD sales to charity.[29] Chappelle expressed disdain at the possibility of his material from the unfinished third season being aired, saying that to do so would be "a bully move," and that he would not return to the show if Comedy Central were to air the unfinished material.[36] On July 9, 2006, Comedy Central aired the first episode of Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes. An uncensored DVD release of the episodes was made available on July 25.

The show still plays in syndication on several television networks, despite the relatively small number of episodes compared to most American syndicated television programs.[38]


Chappelle has been known to make impromptu and unannounced appearances at comedy venues,[39] and continues to do so following his post-Chappelle's Show return to standup.[40][41]

In April 2007, Chappelle set a stand-up endurance record at the Laugh Factory Sunset Strip comedy club, beating comedian Dane Cook's record of three hours and 50 minutes. In December of the same year, Chappelle broke his own record with a time of six hours and 12 minutes. Cook reclaimed the record in January 2008, with a time of 7 hours.[42] On November 19, 2009 Chappelle performed at the Laugh Factory again, where it was speculated that he would attempt to take back the record. However, he was disqualified according to the club owner after he left the stage five hours into his routine.[43]

Chappelle again appeared on Inside the Actors Studio and, in celebration of the show's 200th episode, he humorously interviewed the show's usual host, James Lipton. The episode aired on November 11, 2008. He appeared again on Inside the Actors Studio in 2013, for its 250th episode.

In August 2013, Chappelle returned to stand-up[44] when he embarked on the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity festival. Sponsored by Funny or Die, Chappelle co-headlined with comedy act Flight of the Conchords.[45] At the Hartford show, Chappelle walked off the stage due to heckling from the crowd that lasted throughout his entire performance. The heckling was so raucous that it drowned out Chappelle's voice over the PA system and included chants of "White Power", a line used in a Chappelle's Show episode that was viewed as wildly inappropriate and out-of-context by other audience members who later wrote about the event.[46][47] A few days later, to follow up on the Hartford incident, Chappelle stopped in Chicago for a performance where comedy website ComedyHype.Com acquired and released audio of him being heard on stage responding to the heckling in Hartford. Chappelle referenced the Hartford, incident, that "young, white, alcoholic[s]" should be blamed for the prior incident, that he hoped North Korea would bomb Hartford, that in the future he would not stop in Hartford for gas and finally summarizing his feelings on the situation by saying, "Fuck Hartford!"[48] However, in August 2014 Chappelle returned to Hartford for a surprise appearance at the 2014 Oddball Festival and received multiple standing ovations during his set.[49]

He made his first major New York City appearance in eleven years, performing ten nights at Radio City Music Hall in June 2014.[7]

In 2015, Chappelle appeared in the Spike Lee film, Chi-Raq, his first film role in 13 years.[50]


Chappelle has been involved in a number of charitable events. In 2004, he donated his time to Seeds of Peace International Camp, a camp located in Otisfield, Maine, which brings together American, Israeli, Palestinian, and Iraqi children as well as children from a variety of other conflicting nations.[51]

Style and image[edit]

Writer Hilton Als while describing his physical presence as "indelible" has written:

"When he cackled to make a point he sounded 'country,' like a brother from the sticks. There was something soft and Southern in the cadence of his speech and in his large eyes; his emotional openness was a counterbalance to his satire.... Like ... [Richard] Pryor, Chapelle ... looked like a boy, too skinny, too vulnerable for the big city: a target in both the black and white worlds. Where was his game? Not in his adolescent body but in his words..."[7]


Chappelle has been praised by fellow comedians for his work. Katt Williams believes Chappelle to be the greatest comedian alive,[52][53] while Kevin Hart considers Chappelle to be the greatest comedian of all time.[54]

In 2009, his show was the subject of a book of critical essays, The Comedy of Dave Chappelle, edited by University of Maryland doctoral student K.A. Wisniewski.[38] His work, as well as that of Margaret Cho, was also the subject of a book by a Canadian dramaturg Elizabeth Ludwig, American Stand-Up and Sketch Comedy, that was published at the end of 2010.[55] A monograph published by the University of Gothenburg titled Representations of ethnicity in stand-up comedy: A study of the comedy of Dave Chappelle examined the racial significance of language used in Chappelle's routines.[56]

Popular culture[edit]

In April 2013, Charlie Sheen appeared on Conan O'Brien's talk show and said that in 2011 he had laughed so hard while watching a Chappelle's Show episode that he experienced a ruptured hernia, and was rushed to the hospital. Adding insult to injury, Sheen noted that the producers of his own show, Two and a Half Men, assumed Sheen's hospitalization was a drug overdose and fired him.[57] Sheen's departure from the television show was highly publicized and controversial, leading to protracted litigation.

In August 2013, Chappelle's impersonation of Prince from Chappelle's Show was selected by the singer as the cover art for his new single "Breakfast Can Wait".[58]

Personal life[edit]

He lives with his wife Elaine Mendoza Erfe,[1] sons Sulayman and Ibrahim,[37][59] and daughter Sonal, on a 65-acre (260,000 m2) farm[2][14] just outside Yellow Springs, Ohio.[35] He also owns several houses in Xenia, Ohio. Regarding his home in Yellow Springs, Chappelle said at a blues and jazz festival in the town in mid-September 2006, "Turns out you don't need $50 million to live around these parts, just a nice smile and a kind way about you. You guys are the best neighbors ever. That's why I came back and that's why I'm staying."[60]

Chappelle converted to Islam in 1998. He told Time in May 2005, "I don't normally talk about my religion publicly because I don’t want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing. And I believe it is beautiful if you learn it the right way."[28][61]



Year Film[24] Role[24]
1993 Robin Hood: Men in Tights Ahchoo
1993 Undercover Blues Ozzie
1994 Getting In Ron
1996 The Nutty Professor Reggie Warrington
1997 Con Air Pinball
1998 Half Baked Thurgood Jenkins / Sir Smoke-a-Lot
1998 Woo Schemer
1998 You've Got Mail Kevin Jackson
1999 200 Cigarettes Disco Cabbie
1999 Blue Streak Tulley
2000 Screwed Rusty P. Hayes
2002 Undercover Brother Conspiracy Brother
2006 Dave Chappelle's Block Party Himself
2015 Chi-Raq Morris


Year Film[24] Role[24]
1994 Six Comics in Search of a Generation Himself
1994 Why Bother Voting?
1994 Comic Relief VI Himself (stand-up special)
1995 Walt Disney World Happy Easter Parade
1995 1995 Young Comedians Show Hosted by Garry Shandling Himself (stand-up special)
1995 Home Improvement Dave
1996 Buddies Dave Carlisle
1997 Comics Come Home 2 Himself (stand-up special)
1997 Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist Episode #36: "Electric Bike"; (voice)
1998 Comic Relief VIII Himself (stand-up special)
1998 Canned Ham: Half-Bakedl
1998 HBO Comedy Half-Hour: Dave Chappelle Himself (stand-up special)
1998 Mother Goose: A Rappin' and Rhyming' Special
1998 The Larry Sanders Show Episode #82: "Pilots and Pens Lost"; Himself
2000 Norman Jewison on Comedy in the 20th Century: Funny Is Money
2000 Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly Himself (stand-up special)
2001 Later
2002 Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry
2002 Crank Yankers
2002 Heroes of Black Comedy
2003 Uncensored Comedy: That's Not Funny Himself
2003 2003 Essence Awards Himself
2003 Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic Himself
2003–2006 Chappelle's Show Himself and others
2004 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time Himself (stand-up special)
2004 Comedy Central's Bar Mitzvah Bash! Himself
2004 2004 MTV Video Music Awards Himself
2004 Commies
2004 VH1 Big in '03 Himself
2004 Spike TV Presents GQ Men of the Year Awards Himself
2004 Richard Pryor: I Ain't Dead Yet, ----!! Himself (stand-up special)
2004 Ride with Funkmaster Flex Himself
2005 Inside the Actor's Studio[2] Himself
2005 Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth Himself
2006 Comedy Central's Last Laugh '05
2006 Iconoclasts: Dave Chappelle + Maya Angelou Himself
2006 Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry
2006 2006 Grammy Awards Presenter[1]
2008 Russell Simmons Presents Def Comedy Jam
2008 Inside the Actor's Studio Himself
2013 Inside the Actor's Studio Himself


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External links[edit]