ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Nude modeling is not exactly performance art, but stand-up comedy is, and Dave Chappelle is a master. But in May, he suddenly abandoned the production of his hit Comedy Central series, "Chappelle's Show." He's yet to return. He hasn't explained exactly why he left. Now the network is moving on with the show minus Dave. Here's TV critic Andrew Wallenstein with more.
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN reporting:
Comedy Central is trying to make the best of a bad situation. Last week, the network apparently gave up hope Chappelle would ever return. Now it plans to release the last remaining sketches he shot for the highly anticipated third season and will put them on the air next year. What you will see this week on the Comedy Central Web site is a trailer of these orphaned episodes.
It's a sad development, really. This last gasp of "Chappelle's Show" is probably the end of a brilliant program. Over the past two seasons, Chappelle elevated sketch comedy to an art form. His outrageous humor ranged from the profanely silly to the profoundly thought-provoking. Here's Chappelle in a bit from season two, in which he imagines life as Oprah Winfrey's husband.
(Soundbite of "Chappelle's Show")
Mr. DAVE CHAPPELLE (Comedian): Honey, I'm home. I'm going to fly to Chicago tomorrow. OK? But I'm going to need you to send me a ticket.
"OPRAH WINFREY": I'll fly you out.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Oh, oh, oh--and, baby, could you have a limousine pick me up at the baggage claims because I don't have no cab money to get from the airport to your house?
"OPRAH WINFREY": OK, sure thing.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Thanks, Boo. Oprah, I love you, baby.
"OPRAH WINFREY": I love you, too, David Chappelle.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: All right. I'm going to go to work and tell everybody the good news tomorrow and I'll see you in Chicago. Bye-bye.
(Soundbite of phone being hung up)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Hey, everybody, got an announcement to make! Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! I quit! Oh!
(Soundbite of laughter)
WALLENSTEIN: So how come there's no more "Chappelle's Show"? Well, no one seems to know besides Chappelle. The circumstances of his disappearance are shrouded in mystery. The third season was supposed to begin in February, but the network postponed the debut, explaining that Chappelle was suffering from exhaustion. By the time May rolled around, Comedy Central was forced to admit Chappelle had vanished.
Things only got stranger from there. Chappelle surfaced in Africa, offering only vague allusions to creative differences with the network. Rumors started swirling. Some claim Chappelle had a drug problem; others said Chappelle had become a devout Muslim. His departure is all the more shocking considering Chappelle walked away nearly a year after signing an eye-popping, two-season contract industry insiders pegged at $50 million. It's believed to be one of the highest in cable television. The show was not only a hit for Comedy Central in prime time, but sales of DVDs with those episodes broke records among TV discs.
I bet this isn't the last we'll see of Chappelle on Comedy Central. By disappearing so suddenly, he only left us wanting more, which only deepens the mystery of Dave Chappelle. Why did his show leave him wanting more? Perhaps we'll never know.
CHADWICK: Andrew Wallenstein writes about television for the Hollywood Reporter.
The Dave Chappelle saga took another unusual turn this week. An ex-employee claiming to have been Chappelle's personal manager sued him in a New York federal court, claiming Chappelle owed him more than $800,000 in commissions. And once again, Chappelle is offering no comment.
I'm Alex Chadwick. More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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