This is a clip from Dave Chappelle’s apperance on Inside the Actor’s Studio after he refused a 50 million dollar deal, left his show on Comedy Central, and went to Africa to recover. To become human again. Do you know what it means to refuse 50 million dollars in America? I come back to this American story, this American man’s story—this important question he dared to ask—often. Even referring to it—referring to himself—as a parable.
I hate when/that James Lipton asks Chappelle, “What can they learn?” even though Chappelle is already telling these students what they need to know. Prefaces the anecdote about his father, his early fame—another father—with, “Listen…” Is already teaching these mostly white students the most valuable lesson—to question the price of success and the meaning of reward. Is teaching them about the real acting job involved in acting in Hollywood, in White racist corporate America. He is teaching these acting students something better than acting, better than craft and being crafty: not acting.
During the entire AS interview, and astonishingly even the one he did with Oprah, Chappelle is unflinchingly honest, hopeful, vulnerable, energetic. Instead of telling the students how to make it, how he made it, he discusses the ethics of “making it,” unraveling what it means to make it. Instead of upholding the myth of fame, he cuts into it, offering radical integrity/interiority/subjectivity in the face of corporate takeover success. He doesn’t tell the students, Your dreams will come true when you become famous. He says, Your dreams will be colonized by fame.
It reminded me of this short piece I wrote a couple of years ago on making it.
Chappelle: “The higher I go, the less happy I am.”
Like Louis CK, our other soulful metaphysical contemporay comedian (even all-work-as-play and all-play-is-work, Jimmy Fallon, is a Virgo), Chappelle is a Virgo. And oh, how deeply loveable/loving Virgos, “bearer of messages,” are at their core.
Ellias & Theanna Lonsdale:
On the deeper level, Virgo needs something, wants something, is hopeful, expectant, worried, anxious. Beneath her cool exterior, she is on a continuous search. She’s not quite sure what she’s looking for, but she knows she will recognze it when she bumps into it. She is after like minds, kindred souls, those who are going where she is going. She must find them; they are the missing key and she knows it…She makes the best use of her time…The sign Virgo is so very blessed, so very cursed, so very gifted, so very easily mislead. The blessings and the bounties abound to such an extent that there is no sign more favored by the Goddess Natura, by the forces of Earth. She is indeed the darling of this world. Virgo bears everything within her that this world thirsts and hungers for.
The fact that Chappelle is deeply critical and reflective of everything, including himself. The fact that he is profoundly sensitive. The fact that in his 20s, after his father, whom he loved and talked to about everything, died of a stroke, and his early success was openly unsatisfying to him, he bought a farm. “A fuck you Hollywood” farm. The fact that when his dad died, “the illusion and spell of Hollywood was broken.” The fact that he tells the truth and awkwardly smokes long granny-style cigarettes and throws his head back when he inhales and lets his body go slack in his chair, and throws his arms down, and lets his body melt. And hurts while he talks about things. And laughs a lot while he talks about things. And plays a lot while he talks about things. And is not afraid to get serious and silly about things. And mentions the women in his life: his brilliant activist mother; his grandmother who came to his first stand up routine when he was 14. The fact that his speech has cadence, that he speaks slowly, takes his time with everything, which Nietzsche said is everything. Is character. Is fate. The fact that he is a contemplator: of sadness, of joy, of race, of class, of America, of fame, of celebrity, of humor, of existence. The fact that he has looked and laughed at what it means to be famous every step of the way. The fact that there is joy in his pain and pain in his joy. The fact that he innately understands that to live is also to be at work and of service; that success and fame come with responsibility. “The world can’t tell you who you are,” which of course is why everyone wants to be famous. Fame, inherently co-optive, becomes an alibi for not having to know oneself. The fact that no one can really deal with being famous because fame is a prescription, a moniker, a name the world gives you and identifies you by, and which you must happily cloak over your life; wear as a life. The world can’t tell you who you are but you want it to. You hate the way it always fails to know you. Don’t you know me, the celebrity constantly asks its disappointing audience? You don’t know me. You will never know me. The fan says: I know you. I know I know you. How can I know you? This is the schism of the celebrity. Of the tabloid. Of the fan. Of paparazzi culture. Of the truth of lies. Of the fictional truth. You want the world to do the work of knowing/living for you so you don’t have to. You want to get away with being known for being unknowable. Or being knowable for being known. Chappelle: “I don’t trust celebrity. I don’t trust it.”
That, to me (because my Virgo rising revels in every detail), shocking maturity of Chappelle ten years later: bulkier after a life of wiry gauntness, wide eyes, prominent cheek bones, the brightest skin. He is middle aged out of nowhere. And the voice. The deep voice that men get with age. When they age. How sound, a tonal ontology/topography, changes. The voice ages like everything ages. The voice loses its hope. Its grip. Chappelle no longer sounds like a young man, or even the man he was. A life time of smoking, like Pacino’s voice alteration after 30 years of a 2-3 pack a day smoking habit. This is a slower, wearier Chappelle. A less joyful, gleeful, more reticent, less enraged, less engaged but still soulful and honest, Chappelle. A smoky bass laugh, like Barry White during song. His once totally awake face now tired. The way he now fills out the clothes (the tshirts, jeans) he used to swim in. The wardrobe change. The fancy charcoal suit. Injured heart/injured/older body. Most troubling: today’s Chappelle is reluctant to express/stand by his former views; to frame his Comedy Central rebellion politically. He downplays what he once fully and openly acknowledged as a necessary action. And yet, the soulful social observations (about money, about value) are still there. He can’t help it. Thank god.
Crossposted with Love Dog.