What Exactly Does Dave Chappelle Want From Key & Peele? » VSB

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What Exactly Does Dave Chappelle Want From Key & Peele?

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Approximately midway through one of his new Netflix comedy specials (the one he taped last year in L.A. — I’ve yet to see the one taped in Austin), Dave Chappelle made a shocking allusion to his age. I forgot exactly what he said and how he said it, but I remember being reminded of exactly how young he is, and how surprised I was by that. He’s been in the public consciousness for over two decades now; long enough to have several popular stand-up performances, 26 (!) credited film and movie roles, an iconic sketch show, perhaps the best block party ever, and a decade-long sabbatical from the public eye. I assumed that he was nearing or perhaps even past 50. But he’s 43 years old; just five years older than me.

Undoubtedly, my assumptions were also influenced by Chappelle’s signature laconicness. Even when younger, he carried himself, moved, and spoke with the slyness of someone who’s been here before. Who’s seen everything there is to be seen, and mines his humor from the absurdity and the silliness of the human condition. If Chris Rock was the fiery and profane academic, Chappelle was the perpetually bemused and occasionally inappropriate homeboy.

And perhaps this juxtaposition of his actual age and his decades-long celebrity status is why, after watching his special, Chappelle today feels like such an anachronism. This, by the way, doesn’t mean that his special wasn’t funny. Because it was. But I couldn’t help but wonder why, when releasing his first concert special in 12 years — and releasing said special during a time rife with an ever-growing morass of racial and political context to lend his signature insights to — he’d devote the longest and most ambitious bits of his act to rape, O.J. Simpson, Bill Cosby, and trans people. Perhaps he intended to tackle those subjects as a challenge; attempting to find the humor in content most other comedians would consider radioactive. But maybe he recognizes himself as someone whose time has passed while other, younger comedians have taken his place. And perhaps he’s aware he might be regarded that way, and is pissed about it, and choosing to delve into those topics is a middle finger to 2017. Maybe the world has moved on, but he hasn’t.

If this is true, his bizarre and one-sided feud with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele makes more sense. But it being (somewhat) understandable doesn’t make it right. The source of his acrimony seems to stem from Key & Peele debuting on Comedy Central seven years after The Chappelle Show ended. As Chappelle recently stated in an interview with CBS This Morning, he (rightly) believes he helped pave the way for their success. And this bothers him.

“When I watch ‘Key & Peele’ and I see they’re doing a format that I created, and at the end of the show, it says, ‘Created by Key & Peele,’ that hurts my feelings.”

He also alludes to this during his comedy special, joking that he’s forced to (paraphrasing) “fucking watch Key & Peele do my show every week.” Of course, there are several obvious parallels between the two. Particularly in regard to the focus on race and racism. But how they treat and tackle race is where they’re most divergent.

Like his stand-up, Chappelle’s race humor came from a preternaturally confident understanding of how the world really works and his place in it. He tells it like it is, even if its uncomfortable to hear. Especially if it’s uncomfortable to hear. His infamous weed habit, in this context, is a self-medicating way of dealing with the humor and the harshness of reality. Key & Peele, however, mine much of their race humor from the insecurity of questioning their place in the world. It’s not a shame of Blackness; it’s a perpetual wondering if their backgrounds and personalities cultivate doubts of their authenticity, and finding the humor in their attempts to quell that (mostly) non-existent intra-racial cynicism. The Chappelle Show dealt with what was happening in the world. Key & Peele dealt with what was happening in their own heads.

No skit better exemplifies this internal pressure to perform Blackness than “Soul Food” — which also happened to be the first Key & Peele bit I’d ever seen. Chappelle would never, ever, ever do something like this, because it just wasn’t and isn’t a part of his relationship with the world and with being Black. (This, btw, doesn’t make Key & Peele or their comedy any less Black than Chappelle’s. It’s just covering the same cavernous and limitless topic from a different perspective.)

But even if we go back to the similarities between the shows, Dave Chappelle’s gripes still don’t hold much water. Yes, he definitely came before them and presumably made their path much easier. Just as The Chris Rock Show came before Chappelle. And Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime came before The Chris Rock Show. And In Living Color came before Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime. And The Richard Pryor Show came before In Living Color. And while I’m sure Chappelle appreciated each of his forebearers, I don’t recall any of them receiving executive producer credits for his show.

Ultimately, it seems like what Dave Chappelle wants is for it to be 2005 again. But he didn’t even want it to be 2005 when it was 2005 — choosing to walk away at the peak of his fame — so why should we?

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • MsCee

    I knew this was coming and I’d really like to know the answer.

    • Alessandro De Medici

      Ironically, in the same standup joke, Chappelle gave the answer when he talked about Kevin Hart. Like I said in the other post: it’s a comic thing.

  • Creole Reasoning

    In a way I wonder if Chappelle’s beef (or seeming beef) with K&P isn’t so much their subject matter, their format, or their widespread appeal. Part of me wonders if Chappelle’s more concerned with what he sees as a ham fisted approach to race in America.

  • I haven’t seen the special yet. I imagine a big part of the disconnect comes from the fact that Key and Peele didn’t “grow up” and go through the same chitlen circuit that Dave Chappelle (and his forebearers) went through.

    • MsCee

      Funny how we say we want to pave the way for those behind us, but oftentimes I find we secretly wish people would have to be forged by the same fire that we were forced to experience on the way up.

      • Michelle

        *hums a church hymn while gently swaying in my seat and fanning myself with a paper fan that has a promotion for a auto body shop*
        Mmmm, honey, you said a mouthful of truth!
        This strange occurrence is rampant in my family. In my family, I have relatives who busted their a**es at their jobs and pulling 43-plus hours (usually, “blue collar jobs), a week. They managed to put their kids (and their grandkids, for some of them) in fancy, tuition-based, private schools for most of their upbringings. Made sure that they were committed to extracurricular activities. On top of their schooling…
        Only to develop a strange twist of envy/resentment, because their kids managed to create careers right out of college.

        • MsCee

          Same here, my mom pushed me to excel. Forced me into all kinds of competitions, made me read and write constantly…then started pretty much hating my guts when I graduated college. When I got my Masters at 24 I’m pretty sure she wanted to punch me in the face. It’s confusing.

          • miss em

            It’s jealousy and the crabs in a bucket mentality. It doesn’t come from maliciousness, but the lie that only one negro at a time can be special and also the horrible American idea that in order for someone else to get something, something else must have been taken from you.

    • Aries Spears unfunny a** pretty much said as much.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      K&P put in the work. Many folks weren’t checking for them when they were on Mad TV because we were smitten by In Living Color. It’s very similar to the folks who came through SCTV vs. SNL.

      • They absolutely did. There are definitely biases among Black people though. Like it doesn’t necessarily matter the work you put if you didn’t go through Black stomping grounds (that’s only if there’s a black equivalent).

      • TheUnsungStoryteller


  • NonyaB?

    Haven’t watched the new shows yet but saw the CBS interview with Gayle K. As I said on another thread about this: I make nothing of his K&P comment because only half of it was shown – the camera cut away as he started the sentence, so we never saw the end. He probably finished it a joke – I find hard to believe a comedian who acknowledges influence of comedy greats on him and walked away from 50M would be otherwise bothered by this. He’s also stated how he’s a fan of K&P show.

    Also loved the clips of him in his hometown and speaking to kids “In 2004, I walked away from 50 million dollars and in November, I made a deal for 60 million dollars. So?” BTW, WTF did the CBS co-anchor mean with that question she asked Gayle about him: “Does he seem whole, at this point”? Sounded like b*tchass passive aggressive speak for “Are you sure he’s no longer crazy”? Integrity is so rare and greed so common that people will believe any sh*t rather than the fact that a sane person can turn down 50 million dollars.

    • afronica

      “Integrity is so rare and greed so common that people will believe any sh*t rather than the fact that a sane person can turn down 50 million dollars.”

      Standing ovation for that.

      • NonyaB?


  • Amen

    It’s awkward to see someone as talented as Dave Chappelle be jealous. Like Damon alluded to, it feels like he’s mad at K&P for being comfortable enough to do a kind show that he wasn’t comfortable doing. And the success they’ve attained, PLUS (and i think this is key) the respect they’ve gotten from the community for doing their kind of show. I don’t think Chappelle thought a show like K&P would be respected/accepted by black people.

    • Uhh which community are we talking about?

      • MsCee

        Right, because the few ties I attempted to tune in the humor was maddddddd dry and corny.

        • miss t-lee

          MADDDDD dry.

        • ThePrestigeSeries

          Ok, so I’m not the only one then.

      • Amen

        In the beginning, you’re right, nobody was really checking for them. But now, the show has way more respect than it used to. And that was before “Get Out” came out.

  • I haven’t seen the specials yet but Dave seems a little odd to me since he’s been back in the public eye. From the dark glasses while at award shows, to the off body language, and the chain smoking something just seems not right. I could be over analyzing though.

    On the Key & Peele front Dave needs to chill…so does the unfunny Aries Spears.

    • Courtney Wheeler

      Aries Spears? Maybe it’s just me but if you’re comedy is based on impressions? eh… no bueno.

      • Michelle is my First Lady

        Shout out to Jay Pharoah.

        • His impressions are great but his stand up is meh to me.

          • Michelle is my First Lady

            His impressions seemed to get really old to me. There is only but so many times you can impersonate Jay and Kanye.

          • Jennifer

            I saw him do stand up a little bit after he joined SNL. I was surpised at how much I enjoyed his set. Maybe it was because I wasn’t expecting very much.

    • miss t-lee

      Aries Spears was mildly funny on MADtv. Everything after that has been basura.

      • The only thing he did on MADtv that made me laugh was the Dolemite sketch and Will Sasso’s part was funnier.

        • miss t-lee

          His Shaq always made me laugh.

          • His Shaq was good. LL and DMX not so much.

            • miss t-lee

              See…I don’t even remember his LL and DMX so I know it couldn’t have been good…lol

        • miss t-lee

          However there were much funnier folks on that show, for sure.

      • Keisha

        I saw him live last year (free tickets…no shade, just truth) and he was hilarious! I was pleasantly surprised.

  • darkskinforeskin

    I think Dave watches Key & Peels and sees the show that Comedy Central wanted him to make which caused him to leave. The jabs may be a subtle way to remind them.

    • Creole Reasoning

      That’s exactly my point. When he discussed his reasons for leaving and WHY he couldn’t make the show they wanted him to make…that’s the entire reason he left. I think it pains him to see someone take comedy in the format he created and do the very show he turned down making on principle. Basically, they crossed the picket line, although they didn’t (don’t) know it at the time, if that makes sense.

  • Courtney Wheeler

    Dave Chapelle’s anger toward Key and Peele is so one-sided it’s uncomfortable. One can argue the format at times was similar but style and feel of Key and Peele is so different. I think Chapelle’s gripe has more to do with his ego than comedy.

  • FeeFee

    PMO–It seems like he realized he walked away so early (felt he had no choice, see his baboon analogy for why), and that he had a lot more left to do, which is where K & P picked up. I don’t think his gripe with them is serious, clearly they differ a bit on how to tackle race issues, but still he’s now seeing how he left the door wide open for them to take over when he walked away at the height of his career.

  • AKA The Sauce

    So y’all just gone keep making post loosly based off my comments. Please send my check to *signal lost*

    • Michelle is my First Lady

      I see what you did there.

      • AKA The Sauce

        I see what u did as well…nice avi

        • Michelle is my First Lady

          Thanks OG

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