It’s 2004. I joined a rag-tag group to put together an indie pop culture magazine. We small gang of nerds gathered together daily to report on what was hot back in the early oughts. Our nights consisted of debauchery, but that’s a story for another time. We were 20-somethings, out of college, and dreaming of diving into our creative endeavor of choice. Sometimes we’d share our biggest fantasies, what we wanted to accomplish when we became “adults” and accomplished our goals. Those talks usually ended with a laugh when the romance would result in our catchphrase — “I’m rich, bitch!” A phrase borrowed from Chappelle’s Show.
A year earlier comedian Dave Chappelle premiered his new sketch comedy show Chappelle’s Show. “I’m rich, bitch!” was a quick line spouted out in a high-pitched, scratchy voice during a skit and used in the end credits. By January 2004, when our magazine was prepping its first issue, Season One was a hit, and Season Two was just about to get underway.
By the time Season Two ended, Chappelle’s Show was undoubtedly the funniest show on TV. Comedy Central offered Chappelle 50 million dollars to produce more seasons of the show. Chappelle was indeed, rich, bitches, and it only felt like the beginning. But, as history tells us, it was only moments away from the end. Season Three abruptly ended when Chappelle quit the show and virtually vanished off the face of the earth.
Over the years people dealt with Chappelle’s departure by plowing through the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. We couldn’t believe it, we were angry, pleaded for a return, realized it was never going to happen, and determined it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
But we never stopped loving.
Chappelle didn’t vanish for long and returned to where he feels most comfortable — the stage. Stories would come out of a bad show here or a heckler there. However, stories of the comedian only reminded people of the show we’d lost, and it only made us want more. So, Netflix, masters of creating streaming content, convinced Chappelle to come back for real and to sweeten the deal they gave him two things: creative control and 60 freakin’ million dollars!
The deal consists of three comedy specials. It seems Chappelle scored a major victory here. Two of the three specials were released last week and were recorded in 2015 and 2016 respectively. So, if you think about it, Chappelle is being paid sixty million dollars for the third special, yet to be taped, which will ultimately include new material. Business genius from a comedy genius.
The first is The Age of Spin, filmed at the Palladium in California during the summer of 2016. Chappelle covers topics ranging from the letters in LGBTQ to Bill Cosby. The entire special is given a rhythm as Chappelle seamlessly breaks things into segments punctuated by stories of the comedian’s four encounters with OJ Simpson.
The second special, Deep in the Heart of Texas is from 2015. Critics have pointed out that the material is a bit dated with jokes about Paula Deen’s racism. It’s entirely fair. And yet, it doesn’t matter. Chapelle’s style, the comfort he exudes on stage, and the way he delivers his punchlines, work nonetheless.
Chapelle’s ease on stage is evident in both specials. While the comedian did many movies through the 90s and created one of the funniest shows of the 21st century, he never felt at home in front of the camera like that. On stage, however, Chappelle is king. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Comedians like Kevin Hart, who Chappelle highlights in a funny bit, concede that Chappelle has a comfort on stage that’s uncanny.
During the Kevin Hart bit, Chappelle takes his son to one of Hart’s shows. And for 10 minutes audiences are brought to the show with Chappelle and son. The story ends with going backstage to meet Hart. I won’t spoil it, but as usual, the punchline is unpredictable, self-deprecating, honest, and hilarious. The joke even prompted Hart fans to ask the comedian what he thought of it. Hart’s response: “It was amazing!”
Amazing is the ultimate sentiment I can share about Chappelle’s two new specials. They aren’t perfect, particularly the older one of the two, but they are amazing. The great jokes are so great that it doesn’t matter that there’s a few that don’t fly. It’s amazing to watch Chappelle do what he does best. And it’s amazing to see the comedian give his adoring fans what they’ve craved for so long … jokes and jokes and jokes and jokes!
Welcome back, Dave Chappelle. I’m glad you’re rich, bitch!