Brow Beat

In a Revealing Interview, Dave Chappelle Described His Complex Relationship to Fame and Comedy

Dave Chappelle doesn’t do interviews very often—a fact noted right off the bat by Gayle King, the CBS This Morning co-anchor who snagged an exclusive with the beloved stand-up comic on Monday, ahead of the premiere of his excellent new Netflix specials.

His tendency to stay out of the spotlight led to some revealing, surprising, and strikingly genuine conversation. King first pressed Chappelle to reflect on why he left his breakout project, Chappelle’s Show, so abruptly. “[Someone] said to me that comedy is a reconciliation of paradox,” Chappelle explained. “I think that that was the irreconcilable moment for me—that I was in this very successful place, but the emotional content of it didn’t feel anything like what I imagined success should feel like. It just didn’t feel right.” He told a story about how Bushmen use salt to trap baboons, who can’t pull their hands out of holes once they’ve grabbed onto lumps and subsequently lead the Bushmen to water—and how financial success can be a similar kind of trap. He, however, was smart enough to let go of the salt.

The interview was interspersed with clips of Chappelle’s Show and shots of the two strolling through his Ohio hometown. The conversation, however, mostly stuck to Chappelle’s complicated relationship to comedy and how he grew after temporarily ditching the spotlight. “If you look at me, physically, now, I’m like 40 pounds heavier than when I did Chappelle’s Show,” he said. “And people are like, ‘How did you gain all that weight?’ By resting and eating and paying attention to myself. I have actual relationships with my kids. I’ve been all over the country touring all my life, but I never saw anything. Now I’ve seen everything.”

King also touched on other controversial topics, such as Key & Peele, which was in many ways viewed as Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show successor. Chappelle affirmed that he was “a fan” of the sketch series but later added that his feelings remain mixed:  “When I see Key & Peele, and I see they’re doing the format that I created, and at the end of the show it says ‘created by Key & Peele,’ that hurts my feelings.” He explained that it was a format that required constant commitment and resistance from network pressure to make the show more conventional.

And now, of course, there’s the question of what Chappelle can bring to the anxious social climate of 2017—how concerned he is about going too far, what issues are worth exploring most deeply, and on. But for Chappelle, the mission remains the same. “Comedy’s weird—the line moves, it changes,” he told King. “But I think, especially in comedy, a lot of it has to do with intent. … To make people laugh, to reconcile paradox.”