Can Dave Chappelle combat the 'crazy' label?

Walking away from a $50 million payday these days makes you certifiably nuts, regardless of the reasons that may have prompted such a reaction. And, despite the tumultuous state of our current economy, Gordon Gekko’s words in the 1987 film Wall Street still ring true: greed is good.

With that in mind, Dave Chappelle, will always be classified as “crazy,” which is why his latest antics continue to generate headlines some six years after he did what many Americans consider unthinkable.

Granted taking a stage for nearly an hour, reportedly checking text messages and throwing in a few jokes intermittently, as Chappelle did during his performance for Zo’s Summer Groove, former NBA player Alonzo Mourning’s longtime charity weekend, last month, doesn’t help his cause.

Even more surprising, Chappelle, who is notoriously private, actually addressed the incident on the Bay Area’s Wild 94.9 for the popular show JV Mornings just before he performed with fellow comedy outcasts Katt Williams and Chris Tucker for the sold-out Comedy Jam August 13.


“I came out on stage and the YouTube extravaganza began,” said Chappelle. Drawing attention to hecklers, Chappelle explained that he feared being labeled a “reverse Kramer” in reference to Michael Richards’s infamous 2006 racial meltdown at The Laugh Factory in L.A. The Seinfeld alum was caught on tape using the n-word and other racially inappropriate language in response to a heckler.

“At a certain point,” he said, “you can’t possibly expect me [to continue],” said Chappelle. Because the event was hosted at The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Chappelle intimated the Richards’s scenario wasn’t a stretch. So, it is to be assumed that he chose being labeled “strange” over “racial insensitivity.”

Anyone who has ever met Dave Chappelle, especially during his pre-”I’m rich, b**tch” fame, couldn’t miss Chappelle’s social awkwardness. Some people have an ability to never meet a stranger while others have a tendency never to meet a friend. Given Chappelle’s Hollywood career and the treachery he spoke of during his famous appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, it’s understandable that Chappelle would be cautious.

Throw in his family’s lengthy civil rights and educational backgrounds and Chappelle is indeed the Hollywood oddball, especially among black comedians.
One of Chappelle’s popular sketches about blind, black white supremacist Clayton Bigsby takes on new significance when one learns that his “maternal grandfather, George Raymond Reed, who was blind, was an advocate for the blind. Nuance is what made Chappelle so successful with Chappelle’s Show. As out there as his Clayton Bigsby’s sketches were, the underlying message that “racism is learned behavior” still shined through.

Somehow Chappelle, even in his early stand-up days, never appeared to make his audiences laugh just to be laughing. There was a subtle, cultural bite to his comedy that challenged his audiences. When he walked away from his “lottery” contract with Comedy Central, a network he helped reinvigorate with his brand of comedy, losing that cultural bite was one of the issues that concerned him going forward with the show.

“I want to make sure I’m dancing and not shuffling,” he told TIME Johannesburg bureau chief, Simon Robinson, in 2005, shortly after his headline-grabbing decision.


He also talked with Inside the Actors Studio’s James Lipton during a widely discussed interview about his discomfort at the suggestion that he don a dress for comic effect during the filming of Blue Streak.

In a time where both his Blue Streak co-star Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry, not to mention Flip Wilson before them, have found tremendous success in cross-dressing, some in that circle may have deemed him crazy then for even being offended by the suggestion.

As crazy as it may sound to many in these 15-minutes of fame, reality show-driven time, it’s refreshing that fame makes Chappelle admittedly uneasy. It’s been widely reported that the constant outbursts of “I’m rich, b**tch” from fans when they saw him made him cringe during those “good” times. He fled to South Africa after his split with Comedy Central because his fame did not follow him.

“Let me tell you the things I can do here which I can’t at home: think, eat, sleep, laugh,” he also shared in that TIME interview.

When you really think about it, is Dave Chappelle really that crazy? If any of us had secured the means to live a comfortable life, how many of us would be clamoring to work? If staying at home, relaxing and having piece of mind, were truly tangible, would we not be kicking back like him? Isn’t that exactly why so many of us buy lottery tickets?

Yes, our culture views the ability to entertain as a gift to be shared, but is it really fair for us to impose our wants onto Dave Chappelle when he clearly knows what he needs? In a time when the black image is so assaulted and so many stars, regardless of color, lose their way, Chappelle’s decision to “do you” should be respected.

“What ever decisions I make right now I’m going to have live with,” he said back in 2005. “Your soul is priceless.”