Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Genius of Dave Chappelle (Is He On The Verge of A Comeback ? Let's Hope and Pray)

Do I really need to talk about the genius of this man? More than a comedian, he is a social commentator as all the great comedians were before him. Pryor, Murphy, Lawrence, Rock, Mooney. All of them had something interesting and rather observant to say about America at the time of each of their respective performances. With his stand up, but more popularly with his show, Chappelle taught us about us. Think of characters such as Clayton Bigsby, the blind and black white supremacist. He hears loud rap music coming from the next car and simply assumes that the driver and passengers are black. He tells them to turn the music down and calls them the n-word. They listen to rap music and obviously incorporate much of what they hear into their lifestyles as best they can. This is made evident by their mutual elation at being called "niggers" by a Black man (see my note located on the right side of this page if the use of that word offends you). Funny, yet truthful and telling. Why is that an ingenious move? Here's why: Chappelle makes a mockery of the ridiculousness of racism and racial stereotypes in the sketch, when he uses a racial epithet on the white men in the car based on their "sterotypically Black" behavior. The moral of the story is, all people have a capacity to act a certain way in certain situations. To simply attach stereotypes to a certain group of people is dismissive and ignorant when every race has the same characteristics (maybe in different situations, but the same characteristics nonetheless) and the same diversity of thoughts and interests. Also, the 'n-word' is an insult. Insults and other degrading words, images, and concepts (such as self-hatred and fratricide) are often glorified in the most prominent hip hop songs, films, and personalities - to the point that the white men in the sketch - who have obviously been influenced by Black culture - get excited and happy that they are referred to in such a hateful way because it is the same way that many Black men see each other, as made evident by the way that many of us refer to and treat each other. Plus, of course, to sum it all up - the white supremacist doesn't know that he's black. In one sketch the ridiculousness and lack of credibility found in racism, epithets, stereotypes, and the glorification of the destruction of Black people by Black people are exposed for the idiotic and inexcusable practices that they are. Genius - no other word quite describes it.

Chappelle did a sketch about Law and Order, in which he tackles the injustices and racial disparities ever-present in our legal system. He does this by using two subjects who get in trouble with the law. One is a (black) crack dealer while the other is a (white) white-collar business executive with shady books. He switches the typical legal experiences of the two, making the white-collar criminal deal with the crack dealer's typical experience in the courtroom, and vice versa for the crack dealer. Tron Carter, the crack dealer, turns himself in at a date and time of his choosing while the executive is taken off to jail, after a grenade has been thrown in his home. Tron Carter is barely questioned while the executive is viciously interrogated, an event that ends with a cigarette being put out on his forehead. The executive has a public defender while Tron Carter has a prestigious legal team. Tron Carter admits nothing and instead hilariously pleads the "Fif." The executive, on the other hand, is lied on by police who planted drugs on him. In the end, Tron Carter's sentence is reduced to two months while the executive, a white guy, is sentenced to life by 12 of his "peers," an all-black jury. After his sentencing, the judge calls the executive a "filthy, big-lipped beast" and tells him that his life sentence will provide plenty of time for him to "lift weights and convert to Islam." That shoe looks a lot less appealing on the other foot. When mainstream America gets confronted with the problems found commonly in the minority experience, it just seems more ridiculous (when it is actually just as ridiculous when it happens to minorities). This role reversal is seen quite a bit in Chappelle's sketches and here's the reason: Black people are demonized everyday in the mainstream media to the point that injustices go unnoticed and heroes go unsung in our community. In order to really show how idiotic and illogical the system is that puts Black men in jail while giving White counterparts slaps on their wrists, Chappelle turns the tables and uses Caucasian (and therefore more sympathetic, as my argument goes) characters facing the unjust legal system that many Black men are subjected to every day - Jena Six, anyone? It's undeniably and unjustifiably unequal, and many who may not have realized this have realized it with a laugh thanks to the heroic comedic genius of Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle also does this in another sketch, Black Bush. The premise of the sketch is that a Black man would not have been able to do all the controversial, secretive, and suspicious things that George W. Bush did in office. The reason? Because America would be more suspicious of a black president and would question him about every decision that he made. Black Bush comes out and says that he wants to go to war with Iraq because of his father's run in with Saddam Hussein. He also claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, but cannot evade the fact that the war is actually about oil. Here's the Black Bush sketch in bad quality.

He says everything that everyone thinks about George W. Bush by looking at how people would likely react to the same things if Bush were Black. Look at Fox News and the people who expect and hope for Obama to fail and question his every move and statement. They're calling the guy incompetent as if he is the source of the economic recession or as if John McCain would have gotten us out of it already. Now there are posters of Obama in the same makeup that Heath Ledger sported in his legendary perfomance in "The Dark Knight?" With the word socialism underneath? Not to mention the fact that people are weighing in on his progress every 100 days of his presidency? Where were these progress reports during the last eight years? Tell me that sketch wasn't ahead of it's time!

Why am I writing about Chappelle? Because I hope to high heaven that he returns to comedy. According to this article, he has been doing free shows here and there throughout the country. His last one was in Portland. The story goes as follows: Text messages go out, telling people that DC will be in town at a certain venue. People forward these to their friends, and everyone turns up at the venue. Chappelle comes through and does absolutely impromptu material. No script. No writing. No holds barred. Pure, unadulterated comedic genius. Come to Mississippi and do your thing, man! 100% Dave, too. I mean it. Don't come through like Lebron James and leave us with a bad taste in our mouths (more on that later). We don't see celebrities everyday around here. Seriously, we never see them. We have plenty of them, too. Brandy and Ray J were born in Mississippi, as was Oprah and Jerry Rice. Brett Favre, too. Heck, we don't even see David Banner anymore. All we've got is Morgan Freeman. Bottom line is, MC Hammer could probably come to this state and sell out a show. I know DC can. I mean, it's not like we couldn't use the publicity. We also need jokes that cause us to be conscious of our own racial biases and prejudices so that we can begin trying to correct and change them. Dr. Martin Luther King said, in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, that Mississippi was a state "sweltering with the heat of injustice."
It's still pretty hot.
Nuff said. Bring back Chappelle. If I worked at Comedy Central, the multimillion dollar deal would still be on the table and I'd have a crew ready to start production at the word "go." Bring back Chappelle. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are fine and funny in their respective niche of comedy, but in a time of economic hardship, job losses, home foreclosures, pinching pennies, and all the other things that make any recession so uncomfortable, we need to really laugh again.
In a time of uncertainty, despair, and darkness, we need some sunlight. Bring back Chappelle because in a time that demands great and unprecedented change, we need to first see ourselves as we are so that we can determine what we must become. Am I saying that Dave Chappelle alone is the answer to all of America's problems? Of course not. I am saying, however, that looking at ourselves and laughing may put us on the path to a solution. Nobody does it with the intelligence and insight that he has, nor with the candor, sincerity, and honesty he displays. Road trip to Yellow Springs, Ohio? Yup, I thought so.