Friday, May 13, 2005

My Take on the Dave Chappelle Situation

It wouldn’t be Hollywood if there wasn’t speculation as the why one of its beloved celebrities has gone off the grid. In the case of Dave Chappelle, who recently entered a rehab facility in South Africa, gossip columnists are saying all sorts of things regarding why he chose to leave his show and admit himself. Drugs, otherwise known by the Hollywood euphemisms “exhaustion” and “dehydration”, seems like the most obvious go-to reason for his rehab stint. But following Chappelle over the years I’ve learned that according to him, he doesn’t do drugs (regardless of his “Half-Baked” persona). In fact, Chappelle’s own publicist, Matt Labov, has come out and said, “He's not in rehab. He does not have a cocaine addiction.”

So, what factors led to this incident? Well, 2004 was a good year for Dave. Chappelle’s Show had a strong debut on Comedy Central, and production on Season 2 began in the fall. However, everything changed when Season 1 was released on DVD. In October 2004, Chappelle’s Show Season One shattered DVD sales records. It passed Season 1 of the Simpsons by selling over 2 million units. All of a sudden Comedy Central realized that they had access to the biggest money-maker for their network since Trey and Matt.

So what does a good network do? They throw $50 million at Chappelle for two more seasons of the show. Broken down, that’s $25 million per season, and since there are only ten episodes per season, that’s $2.5 million per episode. Ray Romano, the highest paid actor on television, makes $1.9 million per episode (but he make 22 episodes per season). So basically overnight, Dave Chappelle rocketed to super-stardom.

All of a sudden, the 30-year-old Chappelle became the $50 million dollar man. When people hear that number, their perception of you changes. I’m sure that everyone six-degrees away from Chappelle was calling him looking to get a piece of that $50 million pie. While, in my opinion, I think Chappelle is worth it, a number like that ends up putting a tremendous amount of pressure on a person. And in Chappelle’s case, I think that pressure drove him to a nervous breakdown.

Not everyone’s cut out for fame. Imagine yourself in Chappelle’s shoes, walking down the street with all your fans and admirers screaming, “I’m Rick James, Bitch!” Sure, it’s good to be loved, but that kind of notoriety messes with your head. Suddenly the drive to just fool around and make a comedy show turns into obsessive quest for each show to top the previous one. Season 3 will have to compete with the phenomenon of the Rick James and Prince sketches. Every sketch has to be gold, otherwise the fans might turn on him.

My personal feeling is that Dave Chappelle is the kind of person that would have been perfectly content with simply doing stand-up his whole life. He loved to entertain people and make them laugh, but fame and stardom were never in his ultimate agenda. When he started doing Chappelle’s Show, he found a new outlet for his comedy that was able to reach an audience far beyond his regular fan base. As is the case with television, his fan base grew exponentially. All of a sudden, Chappelle moved from making an audience in a theater laugh to making millions of people around the world laugh.

So my point (yes, there’s a point) is that Dave had a mental breakdown. He was smart to go to South Africa to avoid the blood-thirsty American media and paparazzi. It shows his dedication to getting better, unlike the common week-long stints at Promises in Malibu that celebrities take to “get better” while playing golf and getting massages. Chappelle has a family that he cares about very much, and I think he desperately wants to get back into a healthy state-of-mind for the sake of his family. If that means putting his show on hiatus, so be it. To Chappelle, it was never about the money.

Get well soon, Dave.


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