24 August 1973 (age 50)
Chappelle became enraptured by stand-up comedy as an elementary school student at Woodlin Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, and at middle school in Yellow Springs, Ohio. His inspiration came from his favorite comedians and idols, such as Richard Pryor. His father, William, was a professor of voice and music at Antioch College in Yellow Springs. At 14, Chappelle gathered the courage to perform on stage at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Chappelle was booed off stage, but described this experience on Inside the Actors Studio as an enlightening experience that gave him courage to continue on. After his parents' divorce, Chappelle moved to Washington, D.C., with his mother, Yvonne Seon (a Unitarian Universalist minister). He spent summers with his father in Yellow Springs and graduated from Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a renowned performing arts high school in Washington, D.C., where he majored in literary and theatre arts.
In 1992, Chappelle made his first TV appearance on Def Comedy Jam. In the next year Dave made his first appearance as an actor in Robin Hood: Men in Tights as Ahchoo, and then in Undercover Blues as Ozzie. From 1994 to 1997 Chappelle's career consisted of TV appearances, small stand-up comedy gigs, and low-budget films. During this time, he was given his first shot at a television show, The Dave Chappelle Project but the pilot was not picked up. Chappelle appeared in the much-hyped but short-lived sitcom Buddies on ABC. He had a role in the 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor.
In 1998, Chappelle's career and life hit a turning point following a starring role in the comedy film Half Baked, which Chappelle co-wrote with Neal Brennan and produced. The film follows the adventures of a gang of potheads and has since become a cult classic. Also in 1998, Chappelle converted to Islam. 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 a beautiful religion if you learn it the right way."
Chappelle continued to do TV appearances, stand-up gigs, and films. In 2000, Chappelle again entered the public consciousness with his HBO stand-up special,
In 2003, Chappelle debuted his own weekly television show on Comedy Central, Chappelle's Show. The show parodies many aspects of American culture, including racial stereotypes and slurs, including Chappelle's African-American heritage. This, combined with Chappelle's pointed social and political commentary, quickly helped garner the show critical and commercial success. By the end of the second season, it was one of the highest-rated shows on basic cable, and second only to South Park on Comedy Central. Additionally, the DVD set of the first season became the best-selling DVD of a television show to date. 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.
In 2004, Chappelle was the subject of the Michel Gondry-directed documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party which chronicles a Chappelle-hosted event, in September of that year, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City. The highlight of the event was the 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." The movie was released on March 3, 2006.
The sudden popularity of Chappelle's television show and his widespread fame created new dilemmas for Chappelle. For example, one of his most widely-known segments from the show, the Rick James sketch, finds Chappelle portraying late funk musician Rick James. In the sketch, Chappelle shouts, "I'm Rick James, Bitch!" The phrase met the public's attention and quickly became a part of popular culture. Soon, to Chappelle's chagrin, the phrase was shouted at him by fans wherever he went, often in front of his wife and children. At an appearance at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Chappelle stopped the show to deal with an audience member who would not stop repeating the Rick James phrase. After the crowd repeatedly called out the phrase during a show at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, CA, Chappelle admonished the crowd and walked off the stage.
Season 3 turbulence
The comedian stunned fans and the entertainment industry when he abruptly left during production of the third season of Chappelle'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 triggered reports of mental or drug problems with the actor, which Chappelle later denied. On May 11, 2005, news sources reported that Chappelle had checked himself into a psychiatric facility in South Africa, which Chappelle has since repeatedly denied. On May 14, 2005, Time Magazine announced that one of their reporters had interviewed Chappelle in South Africa, and the comedian said no psychiatric treatments were occurring or necessary. Chappelle has stated his reasons for visiting South Africa were to reflect on his life and career.
On August 3, 2005, co-star Charlie Murphy gave an interview to TV Guide stating that he believed that Dave Chappelle was finished with Chappelle's Show and would not be returning.
By late 2005, Chappelle had returned to his 65-acre farm near Yellow Springs and was performing impromptu shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Newport, Kentucky.
Chappelle 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. Chappelle stated that the death of his father had an impact in his decision to go to South Africa to get away from the stress of stardom, stating that he had not received 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.
He was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on her show on February 3, 2006 in his first televised interview since his departure from Chappelle's Show. He stated in the interview that he "wasn't crazy" but the environment was "incredibly stressful". 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 admitted to Oprah that he felt some of his sketches were socially irresponsible. He singled out the "pixie sketch" (in which it implied everyone has a pixie that appears to them and encourages them to act in a way stereotypical for their race) and said during the filming of the blackface pixie sketch a white crew member was laughing. Chappelle said "it was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me."
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, and to people that supported him. 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. 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, 2006.
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