I See What Dave Chappelle Saw » VSB

Featured, Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

I See What Dave Chappelle Saw

Comedy Central screenshot

 

As you all are aware, a few weeks back, Damon and I had the opportunity to sit down and do some VSB-style interviewing of Key & Peele (see here and here). This is not something that we sought out, but rather the reverse; we were asked specifically to come out to Los Angeles, meet the fellas, and we were given the opportunity to “interview” them, but in a creative and original fashion to use as promotion on our own site.

Anybody who is in this here writing game will tell you that when certain opportunities presents themselves you take them. This was one of those opportunities that we were more than happy to be apart of, even if it did require us to fly into LA on a Tuesday (we did not have the club going up that day) and fly back out on a Wednesday. That turn around coupled with the time difference, how would Rakim say, ain’t no joke.

One of the most interesting parts of our trip was that we were given the opportunity to be on set as they filmed one of their sketches for the current season (though airing later on in the season). We saw how much work truly goes into even one minute and 45 second sketch. It was hilarious each time. And by each time, I mean all at least 10 times they reshot the scene. During that time we got to sit back with the folks who were tied to the guys in various form and talked to some assistants, some folks from Comedy Central, etc. We spent a few minutes talking to Keegan-Michael Key about just how much of a fuck up Jameis Winston really is, or how much money he’s trying to lose with his antics. This happened right as the news of him standing on a table in a cafeteria and making his lewd comments broke.

Funny stuff, bruh. Funny stuff.

Anyway, they wrapped up the first sketch then went to prepare for their second shoot of the day which was a sketch that included Mekhi Phifer (yeah, we also saw and dapped up Mekhi Phifer) and scenes from a police station. The language was colorful and definitely racialized.

Funny stuff, bruh. Funny stuff.

Everybody was laughing as they rehearsed this sketch and made some on the fly changes.

Then it hit me. Again, this is super racialized material, but there were maybe – aside from us there in a promo capacity clearly to reach out to Black people – maybe 2 Black people involved. There were at least 20 non-Black (read: white people) standing around laughing at, not with, these three Black men making sketches of a racial nature. These were the people producing and gaffing and doing things that folks with jobs in LA do when they’re standing around watching the talent act out the sketches they’re acting out.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something just felt…odd. I definitely felt some kind of way about seeing all of these people tied into a product that in truth, they couldn’t truly fathom or understand. Hell, they likely couldn’t care less about understanding it; they just want it to be funny. And it was. They laughed. As I listened to that laughter I had one of those, “what are they really laughing at?” moments that Dave Chappelle spoke of when he addressed giving up that $50 million dollar pay day.

Clearly it was a palpable feeling because Damon had the exact same epiphany that I had at the exact same time. Now, if memory serves correct, we both agreed that it might not be $50 million dollars uncomfortable, but neither of us is rich either and we did have to acknowledge that we felt it. It was real.

I’ve never been on the set of a television show before and I’m assuming that in Hollywood, this is probably the makeup of most sets and crews. You have a ton of white people doing various jobs to make sure the show reaches its completion. And I’m also sure its been like this for as long as the industry has existed. In fact, that’s part of the argument about Blaxploitation movies – and why they’re called that to begin with – you had a bunch of white people creating these movies about Black people as some of the most ridiculous archetypes possible. They also became iconic so I have no idea if we won or lost there. I do know that The Mack is one of my favorite movies of all time. So there’s that.

Also, I presume things were like this for In Living Color as well, a sketch show that specialized in some very uncomfortable, racialized humor at times. But (and assuming its true) perhaps for the Wayans brothers, and Keenan in particular, the bigger goal was more important than who was laughing behind the scenes and why. Maybe the bigger picture is what’s most important. If I was in the position that those before me resided, I’m sure I’d have to ask those same questions and I’m also sure I’d deal with those issues similarly.

And the fact is, if you want to rumble with the bee, then you gon’ have to work with the hive. I’m not sure if that analogy worked that well but whatevs. For Dave Chappelle, he decided that it didn’t work for him and sent a lot of people, including his best friend, a white guy named Neal Brennan, packing. It got to him. And in those few brief moments where I had the opportunity to witness the behind the scenes action, I understood.

Not sure if I’d forfeit that money. As T.I. explains, if it ain’t about the money, don’t be hittin’ me up I ain’t finna do….well you get the point.

But I saw it. I see it. I get it.

Now, about that $50 mill.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • Freebird

    – Great read Panama. This subject never gets old.

    – In the last two weeks I’ve learned that some white folks get it. Really do get it. Some….still have a lot of growth.

    – I dont find Key and Peele funny. At all. I think the two of you would do a better show. Something actually thoughtful like some of Dave’s best work. These dudes…something about their brand of comedy rubs me the wrong way; like the things you felt and described from your visit would not even effect them. My feelings are biased since I’ve never spoken to them, but they remind me of some of the dudes I went to prep school with, who did things to show they were inheritors of black cool and its benefits but at the same time did not like Black Women or have any connection to black culture outside of what they absorbed from tv or their headphones.

    – What Val said

    • Sigma_Since 93

      “In the last two weeks I’ve learned that some white folks get it. Really do get it. Some….still have a lot of growth.”

      The issue is that the masses are subjected to learn the history of the dominant culture in its entirety while they attempt to compartmentalize the sub cultures that exist into a few pages in a history book or a month.

      It’s always amazing to me the folks what will tell you about how educated they are continue to have these “Me Culpa” moments when it comes to race; you would think they would learn from the mistakes made by their peers but no.

    • LadyIbaka

      Thank you soooooooooo much Freebird for saying it. These two are soooooooooo unfunny, it’s not even possible to acknowledge their unfunny ness in a write up. #myfunnyisnotyourfunnybutghatdamnifmostdontseethefunniesitis’funny’likeo_o!

    • Key and Peele strike me as people who only wanna be black for the jokes, like the Jewish dentist on Seinfeld

      • Freebird

        “Key and Peele strike me as people who only wanna be black for the jokes”

        yes! gat damit thats it!

        thank you for making sense out of my nonsense. this is exactly what i feel when watching their show.

        i dont even know who the jewish dentist from seinfeld is – i just watch my first full episode this summer – but i do know dudes who are black for the jokes and these ninjas seem just like those cats.

      • Rachmo

        #nailedit

      • Epsilonicus

        “Key and Peele strike me as people who only wanna be black for the jokes”

        Explain please? What observations bring you to this point?

        • Just certain sketches that are literally just making fun of black people but its technically okay coming from them

          • Epsilonicus

            I think every Black comedian has done that. There are things in our culture we can poke fun of. Even Chappelle did it. Now if that was the ONLY thing they did with their comedy, I would be worried.

            • It’s a common trope, but I think there’s a difference when it comes from stand up and sketches. Perhaps its a personal hangup I have

          • IcePrincess

            Black privilege lol ????

            • nillalatte

              Just read this… you a mess! fa reals…. a hot mess. LOL

      • miss t-lee

        Uh oh.

    • panamajackson

      Thanks. I actually feel like their humor and sketches imply that stuff like that would bother them. But there is a greater good and goal. Look, those guys, goofy as they may come off, are very smart and very focused. They get it. But until you control all the factors of production, you control everything you can and work within the system.

      I find them hilarious for the most part. Like chappelle, some sketches suck. But that’s gonna be the case for anybody doing sketch comedy.

    • Whoops

    • Damon Young

      “I dont find Key and Peele funny. At all. I think the two of you would do a better show.”

      It’s interesting that you’d like us (thanks and sh*t) and not them, because I feel like we operate in the same space, especially when you see skits like this:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zDHSLDY0Q8

      • These dudes were trying to out hyper-tension each other.

      • TJR

        Yeah, for me, this actually proved the opposite point you were trying to make. Operating in the same cultural creative space? Yes…but executing the same level of laughter in me? No.

      • Freebird

        naw. i know you are a fan of their work. i respect that. but your humor and theirs aint the same.

  • LadyIbaka

    About that 50mill…..ummmmm, where do I sign? Alrighty, we are in business. In business, it’s a matter of knowing how to be screwed right. ScrewmeIscrewyou. You laugh at the content, I’ll laugh all the way to the bank. And I’ll walk away when y’all least expect it. When you are negotiating for 50milli, best believe you have a LOT of power…to make demands that can be and will be met. #thereispowerpowerwonderworkingpowerinthebloodofthrLamb (don’t mind me singing…)

    *Val, I’m in the corner counting them ones making sure it is 50, not 49. HeYYYY*

    • Sigma_Since 93

      But what happens when you’ve sold your soul and your people stop laughing? Dave didn’t want to have what happened to Bojangles or Jessee Owens happen to him.

    • Honestly, Dave quit….he didn’t go to another network and try and rebuild, or create anything new he just sat back and talked about how he got played

      • LadyIbaka

        ScrewmeIscrewyou. C’mon, you know going into this business, they are not about elevating your blackness to greater heights, it’s all about, how do we profit From this?? It’s a shiddy position to be, but at the end of the day, business is not about giving phakk to feelings. Fortunately or unfortunately it narrows down to us maintaining creative control by us owning our own productions. Otherwise, this should not be a shocker, but rather an expectation. Why would they get it, when they are not affected?

    • Val

      Hiya, AM!

      *waves*

  • Guest

    My boyfriend worked on the film Coming to America. Tall Dutch guy, model, very European. Got hired immediately as film crew, no questions really asked, even though he didn’t have any film experience. He absolutely loved working on the film but didn’t really understand a lot of the humor. I’m still amazed by all the opportunities that are just laid down at his feet for being who he is and looking how he looks. Love him dearly but he just doesn’t get the privilege. Not. at. all.

    • PunchDrunkLove

      “I’m still amazed by all the opportunities that are just laid down at his feet for being who he is and looking how he looks.”

      I’m not knocking you at all, but I don’t understand when people are shocked by this. This is how it’s been and how it will be as long as there are white people versus non white people. It is sort of par for the course. Nothing surprising at all, when opportunities easily befalls white folks.

      Having said that, even to the topic, JUST FOR ME, this sort of thing doesn’t require an ephiphany (again for me), it’s just how things are, how they’ve always been just probably an arena most are not acquainted. I know it’s not quite the same, but when I see new folks, black folks in corporate American, tryng fit in somewhere using the same rules and strides as whites, I just shake my head. Don’t get me wrong, you can do the dang thing, be just as good and equally successful, but in order to get that done, you need to be informed. The more you know going in and the more you understand, the easier to navigate the road you travel. Not knowing though, is a mother and will bring about all kinds of shock.

      This is not me being jaded, I’m a realist. I can roll with anything as long as I’m informed.

      • Having said that, even to the topic, JUST FOR ME, this sort of thing
        doesn’t require an ephiphany (again for me), it’s just how things are,
        how they’ve always been just probably an arena most are not acquainted.
        I know it’s not quite the same, but when I see new folks, black folks
        in corporate American, tryng fit in somewhere using the same rules and
        strides as whites, I just shake my head. Don’t get me wrong, you can do
        the dang thing, be just as good and equally successful, but in order to
        get that done, you need to be informed. The more you know going in and
        the more you understand, the easier to navigate the road you travel. Not
        knowing though, is a mother and will bring about all kinds of shock.

        No name, no blame, but this sound like this Fortune 500 company I worked at to a T. There were a decent number of Black people around in technical positions, but the majority of them were desperately trying to fit in. Like The Brothers Brothers skit on In Living Color trying to fit in. The upshot is that I ended up getting along with the White people better than they did, and my few Black friends there were either the cleaning staff, the mailroom and the few older Black people around who knew what time it was and had a distinct shortage of f*cks for the White people there.

        While you don’t have to be a jerk, you don’t have to try so hard to fit in. It just makes it that much more obvious that you don’t belong. Be yourself, for goodness sake.

        • PunchDrunkLove

          Could very we’ll be the same company….lol. Being liked versus being respected is what separates those that get it versus those that don’t.

  • Chappelle is the living embodiment of what I mean when I tell people why I don’t want to become a personal chef. There’s something you have to give up when you have to conduct your “heart’s” art (as in, whatever medium you use to express what is inside your core) on demand, on a timetable, through the lens of another, for money. It’s bigger than a “Black” thing, even though that is a big part of it. After watching him perform in person…Chappelle has some serious demons about that.

    With that said, what Chappelle went through is what the majority of Hispanics are going through now on TV…and I am in so many minds about it. Sofia Vergara is the highest paid TV actor on Forbes 3-years running, and she has long admitted that for her, the ends justify the means (her “accent” is for the most part manufactured as is her “look”-she is a natural blonde but dyes her hair to look more to “type”). What matters to her, and producers like Salma and Eva Longoria is ARRIVING-not necessarily the vehicle they used to get there (see: Devious Maids). But where do you draw the line? Does the line even matter? Can you hold it against them, or anyone who does the “do it their way to get it your way, then you can do it however way you want to” mantra? I can’t say.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      As long as they literally don’t coon it up with every stereotype in the book, I think it is ok for actors of color to play the role they do to open doors and invest. One day they will have enough money to create projects they want, and won’t need studios to invest in them. One day Hollywood will have another minority group besides Jewish men to run to when they want to invest in a production.
      Too many people expect a star to stick to the script for their race/culture, but that’s impossible if you want the majority of White America to get comfortable enough not to panic when we really do step out on the stage. Its not fair…its slow…but so is everything else in life.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      As long as they literally don’t crazy it up with every stereotype in the book, I think it is ok for actors of color to play the role they do to open doors and invest. One day they will have enough money to create projects they want, and won’t need studios to invest in them. One day Hollywood will have another minority group besides Jewish men to run to when they want to invest in a production.

      Too many people expect a star to stick to the script for their race/culture, but that’s impossible if you want the majority of White America to get comfortable enough not to panic when we really do step out on the stage. Its not fair…its slow…but so is everything else in life.

    • So long as they play the long game, it can work. I mean Halle Berry did BAPS. I can’t get mad at Eva Longoria playing Devious Maids. So long as she flips it where she wants to go, go for it.

  • Asiyah

    From what I know of the guy (which isn’t much), Dave Chappelle is prone to deep depression. Perhaps he was able to walk away from $50 million not only because he felt his integrity was on the line, but also because his emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being were also on the line. I think it’s easier to walk away from that type of money when you are already financially stable and take those important factors into account. He’s deeper, more sensitive, and more religious/spiritual than his personas (obviously). And normally, comedians are deeply troubled and sad on the inside, and it was either go to the dark side (not just selling out but the dark side of depression) or walk away. I admire what he did.

    • Val

      Hiya, Asiyah!

      *waves*

      Yep, there was a lot going on with Dave back then. I hope he writes a book about it at some point.

      • Asiyah

        Hi Val baby how are you?! xoxo

        • Val

          I’m doing fine, thanks. :-)

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      Greetings my dear

      • Asiyah

        Hiiiii hon!

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    I saw Dave back in Antioch, OH back in 06, after he found his farm and moved out there. Yea he has demons, but he’s also aware he created a monster and nobody was going to let him forget that. I don’t think anyone will have the impact on pop culture and race the way he did. The mere fact that if he said he’d come back to TV tomorrow, at least 10 million would be tuned in ASAP is proof his work is never leaving our memories.

    But now that my neighborhood is gentrified and I have TV crews on my block and around the way all the time, I see how these shows are made. I’ve been to comedy show tapings and see the crew. We are not represented with the staff at all. We only exist to be in front of the camera to provide the entertainment, not behind the camera to record it. That is why they will always laugh at us. That is why that $50 mil aint worth your soul. I mean aye….I doubt I’d give it up, but I lack shame.

    When it comes down to it, for many of us…all of our checks were given to us by a White man who doesn’t even know our faces, our names, and would never give a crap out saying hello to us in person (unless you work for a very small business). With that said, if this is the boat we are in, why would we expect more from someone who became a star?

    • Sigma_Since 93

      The Richard Pryor episode of Black Dynamite briefly touched on this. Richard had the same pull and the same demons.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        He did, but Richard was a cokehead and a dope fiend. Everyone embraced his drug abuse so he had nowhere to turn at all, and he wouldn’t listen to the people who did try to help. Dave is lucky he never took the route of self destruction the way Richard did.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          Richard’s jokes came through his pain but the people only wanted the funny. The damaged man took to substances to deal with those demons.

    • I see your point, though I think it depends on what kind of work you do. If you work in any sort of technical field, at some point you can’t really racialize a formula, equation or program. That crap only happens in academia, where you’re expected to be everyone’s friend. Still, a lot of people are asked to play to a stereotype in one subtle way or another for the pay of some White (usually, but not always) guy. I can see how that would get under someone’s skin.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        It’s beyond getting under your skin. Not only are you not being represented in a fair way, but the things you’re showing people to make them think are instead just another comedy tool for these people who need to change. So then it feels like your hard work falls on deaf ears.
        If I was a scientist and had to deal with everybody treating me like I was Christ himself just because I’m a Black chemist, but then when I do stuff no one else can do, they won’t even acknowledge it properly…I’d be way beyond pissed.

  • NomadaNare

    This is going to sound ridiculous, but seriously, Dave Chapelle is one of this era’s additions to the black prophetic tradition embodied by the writers, artists, and musicians of yesteryear like the late Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Nina Simone, etc. He is obviously a learned student of the human condition and his wisdom critically informs the commentary on life and its relation to blackness inherent in his comedy. I think the only real difference is that his medium isn’t held in such esteem as others (although I would also count Richard Pryor as part of this select group as well). That being said, when Dave Chapelle says something, it may sound simple, funny, and slightly goofy but it’s always strikingly insightful and profound in a way beyond initial interpretation. I can’t say I’ve ever been in that position when the stakes are that high, but I intuitively knew what he was talking about when he said it because I’ve been in situations where I wasn’t sure how my blackness was playing into my perceived success or whether my ‘advancement’ was really a success at all. We’d be wise to listen to more of what he says and apply lessons he has learned to our own lives.

    • Asiyah

      “That being said, when Dave Chapelle says something, it may sound simple,
      funny, and slightly goofy but it’s always strikingly insightful and
      profound in a way beyond initial interpretation.”

      Agreed.

    • Jay Ess

      It’s funny that you mention that because a few months ago, I saw the Iconoclast sitdown from 2006 between Dave Chappelle and Maya Angelou where they discussed the human condition, the black struggle, and passing on wisdom to younger generations.

      You could tell that Dave was deeply in awe or her and taking in every word, mannerism, inflection, pause, tone shift, and eye-bat that Maya shared with him while discussing her life, her struggle, his life, his ability, and the condition of their shared people.

  • theokyoung

    Some of you seem like you question Dave’s decision but I think he knows what a lot of people in entertainment are scared to say. Money and fame is the chains used to bind people in desperation. Katt Williams had a joke where he said an awards show had Flavor Flav cooning and ultimately when asked Flav about it he said ” I don’t care what they think of me they got to pay me boy”. Now it sounds cool in theory that they are going to hate you anyway so you may as well get paid but guess what Flavor Flav still got money issues. They know who got drug problems, spend recklessly, collect baby mamas, and will wind up right back begging for a chance to coon again to maintain their lifestyle.

  • tigger500

    More of us should probably give up the money. or in this this case at least, hire more black folks behind the scenes

More Like This