'Chappelle's Show' in Limbo as Star Disappears from Public Eye
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
If you're up late watching Comedy Central, here's a voice that's probably very familiar.
(Soundbite of "Chappelle's Show")
Mr. DAVE CHAPPELLE: (As Rick James) There's a new joke going around. Have you heard it? What does the five fingers say to the face?
Unidentified Man: What?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As Rick James) Slap!
(Soundbite of slapping noise; laughter)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As Rick James) I'm Rick James, bitch! Everybody...
NORRIS: That's comedian Dave Chappelle as singer Rick James, a signature character from his blockbuster hit on Comedy Central called "Chappelle's Show." And since this isn't late-night television, that's about all we can play for you.
Chappelle's offbeat and provocative show has catapulted him to television stardom. He reportedly signed a $50 million contract, and the show's third season was supposed to start airing on May 31st. But last week, Comedy Central announced that the launch was postponed indefinitely and that production had stopped. Now the star is nowhere to be found. Devin Gordon wrote about Dave Chappelle for Newsweek. He joins us now.
Devin, where is Dave Chappelle?
Mr. DEVIN GORDON (Newsweek): Nobody in Dave's official camp is confirming for sure. There have been recent reports that he's in a mental facility in South Africa, which sounds almost Baroquely strange. I don't know if it's true. But we reported earlier this week that he was having some serious issues with the pressure associated with that contract and maybe doing a little bit too much partying, maybe butting heads creatively with the network. It seemed like there was a lot of problems swirling around him and distracting him from producing the show. And if these latest reports are correct, it's going to be a while before we see it again.
NORRIS: Now a spokesman for Comedy Central told NPR that the network doesn't know where he is. Is it possible that this could be a stunt?
Mr. GORDON: I don't think so. I think that there is something genuinely wrong with him. I'm not convinced I believe Comedy Central 100 percent when they say everyone there doesn't know where he is; I'm sure someone does. My suspicion is that their reasons for saying they don't know where he is is that they don't want to interfere in a sensitive issue about someone's emotional health.
NORRIS: Now as we said, the third season was scheduled to debut at the end of May, but it was originally supposed to air in February. Were there early indications that all was not right?
Mr. GORDON: I was on the set of the show in mid-November, if memory serves, and there were no indications to the naked eye that anything was amiss. In fact, Dave had his family around him; his wife was on the set, his two little boys were there. He was very funny filming the material that he was working on. But a couple weeks later, the show was put on indefinite halt, and then, you know, three months, four months later, put on halt again.
NORRIS: Reasons given for the delays?
Mr. GORDON: At the time, none. Both sides, Comedy Central and Dave Chappelle's publicist, have been very tight-lipped throughout this whole process about exactly what is wrong.
NORRIS: Devin, the show is a phenomenal success. It has a broad and diverse audience. It's a big moneymaker for Comedy Central. What is Chappelle's appeal?
Mr. GORDON: Chappelle is one of those rare comedians who is saying things that people just don't say, verging into subjects that only the bravest of comics--Richard Pryor, Chris Rock as his sort of historical predecessors--verge into. And it's just really, really funny. It's a kind of humor that is beyond some people's palate. It rubs people the wrong way. It worries some people; it even offends some people. And generally speaking, that's usually the most cutting-edge, most exciting stuff. And Dave Chappelle has the audience that everyone seems to want, which is this sort of smart, young, very cynical and abrasive kind of audience that wants to hear something new.
NORRIS: Well, he's one of the funniest men in America working today, and we hope he's well.
Devin, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. GORDON: Oh, thanks for having me.
NORRIS: Devin Gordon is a senior writer for Newsweek magazine.
(Soundbite of music)
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