Who knew that after 30-plus years in a career that has ranged from small stages at tiny nightclubs to the biggest stages at the most exclusive venues (and also movies, and a modern classic TV show), Dave Chappelle would wind up with one of the highest honors given to comedians and comedy writers?
But in his eight-minute acceptance speech, given in October but released this week, he managed to speak volumes — which he usually does — and makes the remarks about culture and comedy that has kept him on the edge all these years. So here are the top four takeaways from Chappelle accepting the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
On the First Amendment:
“I know comics that are very racist and I watch them on stage and everyone’s laughing and I’m like “hmm that m*****f*****r means that s**t….It’s not that serious. (The) First Amendment is first for a reason. Second Amendment is just in case the first one doesn’t work out.”
On comedy being honest:
“There’s something so true about this genre, when done correctly, that I will fight anybody that gets in a true practitioner of this art form’s way because I know you’re wrong. This is the truth and you are obstructing it. I’m not talking about the content, I’m talking about the art form.”
On the meaning of the term Griot:
“We had a real oral tradition in our house. I knew the word ‘griot’ when I was a little boy. A griot was a person in Africa who is charged with keeping the stories of the village. Everyone would tell the griot their stories and they would remember them all so they could tell future generations. When they got old, they’d tell them to someone else. And they say in Africa, when a griot dies it’s like a library was burned down.
“My mother used to tell me, before I ever thought about doing comedy, she said you should be a griot.”
On his mother’s support:
“I was a soft kid. I was sensitive, I’d cry easy and I would be scared to fist fight. My mother used to tell me this thing…”son, sometimes you have to be a lion so you can be the lamb you really are.” I talk this s**t like a lion. I’m not afraid of any of you. When it comes word to word, I will gab with the best of them, just so I can chill and be me.
The Mark Twain Prize, given annually, celebrates comedians and humorists whose work has made a significant cultural impact. Past winners include Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Eddie Murphy. Last year’s recipient was Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Check out Chappelle’s Mark Twain acceptance speech in its entirety below.