Dave Chappelle

David Khari Webber “Dave” Chappelle
[4] (pronounced /ʃəˈpɛl/; born August 24, 1973)[1] is an American comedianscreenwriter,television/film producer and actor. Chappelle began his film career in the film Robin Hood: Men in Tights in 1993 and continued to star in minor roles in the films The Nutty ProfessorCon Air, and Blue Streak. His first lead role in a film was in Half Baked in 1998. In 2003, he became widely known for his popular sketch comedy television series, Chappelle’s Show, which ran until 2006. Comedy Central ranked him forty-third in its list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians.

Early life

Chappelle was born in Washington, D.C. [1][2] His father, William David Chappelle III, was a professor at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.[2] His mother, Yvonne (née Reed), was a professor at Howard UniversityPrince George’s Community College, and the University of Maryland and is also a Unitarian Universalist minister.[6] Chappelle grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and attended Woodlin Elementary School.[2] During young Chappelle’s formative years, his comic inspiration came from various comedians, particularly Eddie Murphy andRichard Pryor.[2]

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 work

Chappelle moved to New York City to pursue a career as a comedian. He gathered the courage to perform at Harlem‘s famed Apollo Theaterin front of the infamous “Amateur Night” audience. The performance resulted in him being booed off the stage. Chappelle has 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 in the New York comedy circuit, even performing in the city’s parks. At the age of 20, Chappelle made his film debut as “Ahchoo” in Mel Brooks‘ Robin Hood: Men in Tights. That same year, he had a small but showy role in the film Undercover Blues. On the strength of his performances in these films, Chappelle was offered the role of Bubba in Forrest Gump, which was in a pre-production stage. Not realizing the effect this future Academy Award winner for Best Picture would have, and concerned about what seemed to be a racially demeaning character, he turned down the part. He has since admitted to regretting the decision.[7] Chappelle played another supporting movie role in 1994’s little-seen Getting In. He attracted the attention of TV network executives and developed numerous pilots but none of them were picked up for series.[2][8] In 1995, he made a guest appearance in an episode of ABC‘s highly rated sitcom Home Improvement. The storyline had Chappelle and real-life friend comedian Jim Breuerask Tim Taylor for advice on their girlfriends. 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 GartinBuddies premiered in March 1996 to disappointing ratings. The show was cancelled after only four episodes out of thirteen that were produced. Nine years later, in May 2005, ten of the episodes were released on a single-disc DVD to capitalize on Chappelle’s new-found fame.

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. Chappelle refused and accused the network of racism.[2][8] Shortly after this incident, Chappelle’s father died. Chappelle returned to Ohio and considered leaving the entertainment business.[2][8]

He later appeared as the nightclub comedian in The Nutty Professor starring Eddie Murphy, one of his major comedic influences. He also had minor roles in Con Air and Martin Lawrence‘s Blue Streak. He co-wrote (with Neal Brennan) and starred in Half Baked, a cult film about a group of pot-smoking best friends trying to get their friend out of jail.

Chappelle appeared as himself in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, in which he and the executives of the show’s nameless television network satirized the treatment that scriptwriters and show creators were subject to, as well as the executives’ knee-jerk stereotyping when it came to race. In 1998, he played a critical supporting role as Kevin Jackson,Tom Hanks‘ character’s friend and confidant in You’ve Got Mail. The choice of a Black actor in this role was especially significant because the original version of this film, ‘Shop Around the Corner, released in 1940, was set in Budapest, Hungary, with an all white cast.

Dave then, in 2002, played the “Conspiracy Brother” in the movie Undercover Brother.

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 stereotypespolitics and pop culture. Along with comedy skits, the show also featured musical performances by mostly hip-hop and soul artists. Chappelle’s pointed social and political commentary quickly helped the show garner critical and commercial success as well as controversy.[8][9] Richard Pryor, one of Chappelle’s comedic influences, was a fan of the show and stated that he had “passed the torch” to Chappelle.[8] Chappelle received two Emmy nominations for the show.[10]

Additionally, the DVD set became the best-selling DVD of a television show to date, overtaking the previous best-selling, The Simpsons first season DVD. It had sold over 3 million copies.[11] Due to the show’s popularity, Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom 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 had stated that sketches are not his favorite form of comedy, and that the characteristics of the show’s format were somewhat like short films.

Season three turbulence

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 the popular “Rick James” sketch. After a few minutes, Chappelle returned and continued 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 also 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.[12]

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 ofChappelle’s Show. Chappelle has since stated that he was unhappy with the direction the show had taken, claiming pressure from network executives regarding the show’s content. Chappelle left the United States to visit South Africa. His decision to visit South Africa while leaving the public in the dark regarding the details about his absence triggered reports of drug problems. Chappelle gave an interview to Time Magazines South African bureau chief. Chappelle denied any drug or mental problems but stated that his reasons for visiting South Africa were to reflect on his life and career.

Record stand-up

In April 2007, Chappelle set a stand-up endurance record at the Laugh Factory Sunset Strip comedy club, besting comedian Dane Cook‘s record of 3 hours and 50 minutes. In December of the same year, Chappelle broke his own record with a time of 6 hours and 12 minutes. Cook took the record again in January 2008, with a time of 7 hours.[27]

On November 19 2009 Chappelle performed at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles where it was speculated that he would aim to take back the record. However, he was disqualified according to the club owner, after he left the stage, five hours into his routine.

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.[13]


Later in the year, Chappelle performed impromptu stand-up shows in Los Angeles.[14][15][16] He then went on a tour which began in Newport, Kentucky which is not far from his Ohio home.[17] He also 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!.”[18] 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.[19] Chappelle stated that the death of his father in 1998 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 continued:

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.

Chappelle also said that he felt some of his sketches were “socially irresponsible.”[20][21] 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.[22] According to Chappelle, during the filming of the sketch, a crew member was laughing in a way that made him feel uncomfortable and made him rethink the show.[20][21] Chappelle said “it was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me.”[20]

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 also stated he would like to donate half of the DVD sales to charity.[23] 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.[21] 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.

Chappelle has stated that he has no intention of leaving Yellow Springs, Ohio, his current residence. “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,” he stated at a blues and jazz festival in the town in mid-September 2006, “That’s why I came back and that’s why I’m staying.”[24]

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 10, 2008.

Rick James movie

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

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party

Chappelle was the subject and producer of the Michel Gondry-directed documentary Dave Chappelle’s Block Party which chronicles a Chappelle-hosted “rap concert” in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on September 18, 2004. Several musical artists, among them Kanye WestThe RootsErykah BaduMos Def, and Jill Scott are featured in the movie both performing in the concert and in conversation off-stage. The most surprising highlight of the event was the “last minute” reunion of popular ’90s rap group The Fugees. Chappelle toured several cities in February and March 2006 to promote the film under the moniker “Block Party All-Stars featuring Dave Chappelle”.Universal Pictures‘ genre division Rogue Pictures released the film in the United States on March 3, 2006.

Personal life

Chappelle lives with his wife Elaine, two sons, [22] Sulayman[29] and Ibrahim[30], and daughter Sonal, on a 65-acre (260,000 m2farm,[2][8] just outside Yellow Springs, Ohio.[17] He also owns several houses in Xenia, Ohio.

Chappelle has stated that he is an avid World of Warcraft player.[31]

Chappelle is a Muslim; he converted to Islam in 1998. He told Time Magazine in a May 2005 interview, “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.”[13]

Chappelle can play two songs on the piano, “Round Midnight” and “Misty“, as revealed by drummer Questlove in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.

Television work


Year Film Role Notes
1993 Undercover Blues Ozzie
Robin Hood: Men in Tights Achoo first major role
1994 Getting In Ron
1996 Joe’s Apartment Cockroach voice only
The Nutty Professor Reggie Warrington
1997 Damn Whitey Dave minor role
Bowl of Pork Black Forrest Gump minor role
Con Air Joe ‘Pinball’ Parker
The Real Blonde Zee
1998 Woo Lenny
You’ve Got Mail Kevin Jackson
Half Baked Thurgood Jenkins/Mr. Nice Guy/Sir Smoke-a-Lot also co-writer
1999 Blue Streak Tulley
200 Cigarettes Taxi driver
2000 Screwed Rusty P. Hayes
2002 Undercover Brother Conspiracy Brother Jones
2006 Dave Chappelle’s Block Party Himself also producer