FUNNY FLASHBACK: DAVE CHAPPELLE

26 Sep

If there’s one thing I love as much as music, it’s comedy. And my family. And cookies, too. So that’s three things …

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview some of my favorite comedians, and since I started a blog … I figure I can stick the ancient transcripts on here for the sake of posterity.

Here’s a transcript of a 2002 (pre-“Chappelle Show”) interview I did with the always hilarious Dave Chappelle.

DC: Hello?

May I speak with Dave please?

DC: Speaking.

Dave, this is Ryan from Punchline mag in Richmond, Virginia. I had an interview scheduled for about this time.

DC: Oh . . . OK.

Do you need some time?

DC: Uhhh . . . yeah. Maybe like ten minutes.

Alright, I’ll call you back in like ten minutes.

DC: Perfect.

Alright.

(Ten minutes later …)

DC: Hello?

Dave, it’s Ryan from Punchline again.

DC: Alright.

You OK to do the interview?

DC: Yeah, cool. I’m coming down that way soon.

Right, yeah, that’s what the interview is for.

DC: Alright.

How old were you when you started doing stand-up?

DC: I started when I was fourteen.

Did it come about because you had a love for stand-up comedy, or just because people told you that you were funny?

DC: Ummm . . . I think both of the above.

It had to be weird performing stand-up at fourteen.

DC: Yeah, it was.

What were some of the advantages and disadvantages of starting so early?

DC: Well, my mom used to have to come to the clubs with me, so you can put that under both columns.

What’s the advantage to having your mom there?

DC: Well, basically just that I could get in. Help me navigate the adults.

What was your act like when you were fourteen?

DC: Surprisingly similar.

Really?

DC: Yeah. I mean, I was younger, so it wasn’t as in-depth as it might be now. But you know, I would talk about “ALF,” I would talk about Jesse Jackson running for President . . .


Were you, like, reading the newspaper to get material?

DC: Well, back then I didn’t realize that comedians had material. I thought they just went up there and talked. So I started out by just going on stage and talking about what I did in school and stuff like that. But then I started to see the comedians and I would say, “Hey he did that last week!” So then if I said something that got a laugh, I would remember it. So I started compiling an act that way.

Being that young, what was the reaction from other comedians?

DC: That’s a good question. I don’t think anyone has ever asked that. I think they were shocked, and they kind of started to hate me for it.

Did they hate you immediately, or just once they realized that you were really good at it?

DC: Yeah, I think once they saw I was good at it. I mean, I had to go up to the MC and say, “Hey, can I go on early tonight, because I’ve got school in the morning.” And they would be like, “Well, if that’s the case, why don’t you just start doing comedy after school?” Stuff like that.

How long did it take before it went from, “I like this and they’re tolerating me” to “I think I may have a future at this”?

DC: It started going well pretty much from the beginning. Like two or three years into it, I started winning contests.

Were you doing road gigs by that point?

DC: Ummm . . . I think I started doing that my senior year of high school.

Did it seem strange, or did you just figure, “This is what I want to do”?

DC: It felt exciting more than strange. The principal at my high school would excuse my absence if I was out working on the road.

Did you bring him a note with the name of the club you were working at and who you were working with?

DC: Yeah, exactly.

There have been a lot of comedians that, despite their talent, never seem to catch a break. When was it that you thought, not only am I good at this, but I’m having success, too?

DC: Yeah, that started when I was about eighteen, when I moved to New York.

So you started out in D.C. and then moved to New York?

DC: Yeah, when I was eighteen, right after I graduated from high school.

So you never went to college?

DC: Nah. I used to go just for the parties, though.

Do you think that’s the best way to approach college?

DC: Well, sometimes I feel like I missed out. I would have liked to have gone, but I think if I would have waited to do the stand-up, I never would have made it. You just have to be young.

Was there a lot of bitterness from other comics when you started, because of how young you were?

DC: I’m certain that had a lot to do with it. It’s kind of hard to watch a guy younger than you pass by you, you know what I mean?

There seems to be a lot of resentment in stand-up comedy in general.

DC: Yeah, it isn’t pretty. I’m surprised you picked up on that. It’s pretty bad, isn’t it? I mean, who knew? Comedians are such pricks.

Who’s idea was it for you to go to New York?

DC: That was me. I was feeling like if I didn’t go, then I would never make it.

Did you have a plan?

DC: Well, I would work with a lot of comedians from New York, so I would ask them about Manhattan, trying to figure out the lay of the land. I knew that there were a lot of clubs in Manhattan, and I had heard of one in particular, Boston Comedy Club in the village, that kind of favored younger comedians. So I figured I would go there first, and try to build a reputation that would spread around town. And it worked like gangbusters, you know? I went to Boston, then I moved on to the Comedy Cellar, and within a few weeks, I had passed into all the clubs, pretty much.

That quick?

DC: Yeah, it’s hard to do. I don’t think anyone has done it that quickly since then.

What were some of the hurdles you had a clear to get into the clubs? Was it just persistence?

DC: Yeah, I mean, I would just perform anywhere. Anywhere. Any club. I worked a lot in the park.

I was reading about this guy Charles Barnett that was sort of your mentor in the park.

DC: Yeah, when I first got to New York I met Charlie. That was another thing that kind of advanced me, skill-wise. Just exponentially. Charlie taught me how to be fearless working outside.

So what would you do, just stand-up and start talking and hope to gather a crowd?

DC: Yeah, exactly. Or pick up someone else’s crowd that was finishing up. Early on I used to do that just because it was easier than picking up a crowd from scratch. But I was learning from the best guy who was doing it.

Didn’t that feel strange, coming from working in clubs?

DC: I remember it being really exciting. By that time I had been doing stand-up for about four years, so this was like starting all over again. The main difference, I think, is that the timing is way different than being in a club. The timing is a little slower. There’s a different cadence to it. And also you can’t be shy at all, so it’s also a matter of becoming less and less inhibited.

For lack of a better term, you “made it” a lot quicker than most comedians. Do you think that’s a result of dedication?

DC: It’s also that youth thing. It’s funny you say that, because I’ve been skateboarding a lot recently. So I go to these skate parks, and the kids there are like the same age as when I started. And they’re just fearless. They’re not scared of falling down and hurting themselves. So if I would have waited until I was older I may have never made it, because I get more humble as I get older. When you’re young like that, you only think of when everything goes right. You don’t think about, what if things go wrong. I mean, I took my lumps coming up. But the industry saw me coming for a long time. I was really young, and for my age, I was pretty funny. I decided to move to New York instead of L.A., because I figured there was more work on the East Coast, and besides, my mom was only, like, four hours away. So I was like, well, I’ll just go there.

If it’s too bad, I can always just come home.

DC: Exactly.

What comedians inspired you to start stand-up?

DC: Well, Eddie Murphy at that time was the be all, end all of comedy. And then Richard Pryor of course, although I didn’t appreciate the depth of what he was doing until I got older. But I still liked him. And you know, in D.C. at that time, Martin Lawrence was the big local hero. That’s all I can think of.

And when you got to New York?

DC: Well, Charlie Barnett who we spoke about. But you get to a certain point where you don’t really have mentors anymore. You can learn from everbody in general, but it gets different.

Were there comedians who just blew you away with how good they were, yetno one knew who they were yet?

DC: Oh, yeah. There were tons of guys like that. But all of those guys have made it by now. When I was coming up there was Ray Romano, Bill Bellamy, Brett Butler . . . everyone who’s on TV now.

Isn’t that strange?

DC: Yeah, it’s crazy. And they’re all good, they’re all funny.

I read in your bio that you’re the son of a Unitarian minister. Did that play into your getting into stand-up at all?

DC: I don’t know about that. I don’t think so. Both of my parents are really smart people, and that influenced me, but I don’t think the Unitarian thing did at all. That’s a pretty laid back religion, the Unitarian thing.

It’s not quite fire and brimstone.

DC: Yeah, you don’t feel like you’re a preacher’s son or anything. And when I started doing stand-up, my mom was really, really supportive.

Did they ever have a problem with your material?

DC: Well, my mom used to critique my act all the time. But that’s just . . .

Because she’s your mom.

DC: Yeah, exactly. “You’re hitting that ‘pussy’ word a little hard.”

“Hey, Dave, maybe one pussy is enough.”

DC: Yeah, yeah! Exactly.

Is there a particular thing that sticks out in your head where you thought you had made it?

DC: Well, my single biggest break was probably the Montreal Comedy Festival. And that was right on time, man, because I had made a deal with my parents that I would skip college and go to New York, and I said if you could just give me a year, and if I don’t get anywhere, I’ll come back. And the Montreal Comedy Festival was right at the end of that year. And after that I had a television deal and all kinds of shit.

Was it overwhelming?

DC: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, you have a notion in your mind about making it, but you really have no idea of what making it means. It’s not like I had a direction I wanted to take my career in. I just thought, well, if I make it on TV, I guess I’ve made it.

It seems like in the mid 90’s, every sitcom was a comedian’s act squeezed into a sitcom.

DC: I think they still do that, it’s just that they’ve run out of comedian’s with acts. If anyone looks like they would be funny, Hollywood snatches them up. That’s kind of what messed up comedy. I think guys starting out now already know how much money is involved.

Were you shocked when you found out how much money was involved?

DC: Me? Oh, yeah! I think everybody is shocked. It just that when I started out, everyone just wanted to be a comedian. And now, it just looks like an easy way to get rich and famous. And anyone off the street can give it a try. So, I mean, some guys you can completely see why they’re out there. Some guys are really funny, and other guys, it’s just like, “Man, what are you doing here?”

Is that the biggest change to comedy since you started?

DC: Yeah, that and there are a million more guys now.

Comedians always talk about that happening after “the comedy boom” in the eighties.

DC: Yeah. I mean, when I started, in like ’87, ’88, the older guys were already saying, “It’s over! Comedy is dying!” And then in the early 90’s it was pretty much dead, or dying fast. And then Def Jam came out, and that gave a whole new life to at least black comics. And it was just in time, because a guy could go from just being an obscure comic, to making two grand a night. Which at the time was like, “Holy shit!”

I think people forget how revolutionary Def Jam was at the time. Now you hear it as a derogatory term, for someone who’s not clever, just filthy.

DC: Yeah, I think that’s how it’s perceived. And I actually was concerned about that for a while. For instance, the “Kings of Comedy” tour, that’s all Def Jam guys. And I was offered that tour, but I turned it down. In retrospect, not the smartest move I ever made. But at the time, and I still feel this way, I just wanted to do my own thing.

Well, you said you didn’t have a grand plan when you started out. Has that changed?

DC: Well, now I don’t have a plan, I have a policy. I just do things that allow me to earn a living and stay happy doing them.

Do you pass on projects because they’re just . . . stupid?

DC: All the time. Everyday.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever been offered?

DC: Boy, that’s a good one. It’s got to be some dumb-ass movie, or any one of the sitcoms I tried to do.

Are you a fan of sitcoms at all?

DC: Not at all, and that’s what so crazy about when I tried so hard to get one, because I don’t really find them funny. I mean, I like Ray’s show, and I like Seinfeld, and I like some other sitcoms for what they are. But it’s just like . . . I don’t think that’s my medium.

Can you remember when of the worst gigs you’ve ever been a part of?

DC: I did this gig around D.C. once, I think it was actually in Virginia, at this restaurant. It was like an old Denny’s that someone had bought. And these guys had actually put the stage right behind the salad bar. So anyone how came up to get salad was right there in front of the stage. It was the worst possible thing you could think of. I’ve never seen a gig that bad before or since.

And I bet the people eating had no idea there would be comedy going on.

DC: Absolutely. Like people just went out to get something to eat and then there was a comedy show going on.

I think that’s a Virginia institution. If you ever need a gig at a seafood restaurant, we can hook you up.

DC: (Laughs)

David Cross said that after doing “Mr. Show,” everybody comes up to him assuming he is stoned constantly. Did you experience the same thing with “Half Baked”?

DC: Absolutely. But wait, I’m curious. You mean Cross isn’t stoned constantly?

Well, he didn’t say. He just said everyone assumed he was.

DC: Yeah, man. That’s true. But you know what, I actually worked out. I almost got away with it. Because right after that, I did that Tom Hanks movie, “You’ve Got Mail” and that “200 Cigarettes” movie. And “Half Baked” had like a time release effect. Like at first it didn’t seem that popular, and then after awhile it seemed like a cult thing, just wildly popular.

It’s one of those movies that will live on video.

DC: Yeah, exactly.

For the next twenty years, every nineteen year old kid who gets stoned will eventually watch that movie.

DC: Yeah, that’s true. I felt a little guilty about that movie. It didn’t turn out the way that I intended it, I’ll be the first to admit that.

The movie or the reaction to it?

DC: No, the movie.

Like, it wasn’t funny enough?

DC: Well, I think the jokes were good, but the way they did it, they kind of watered it down. I think at the time the studio was afraid of it. They freaked out a little bit. And I freaked out a lot when I saw it. I was like, “Shit! I missed!”

Eh, it’s got a few laughs. I think that’s all anyone expects.

DC: Yeah, but it’s different when you work on something. It was the first movie I was involved in the writing of, so it was like . . . that’s my work!

My art!

DC: Exactly! I mean, I guess it’s alright, but . . .

Have you tried writing anything else?

DC: Nah. Well, right now I’m writing a show for Comedy Central with my same buddy I wrote “Half Baked” with. It’s like skits, shorts, film shorts almost. And so far it’s really cool. I really enjoy working with a smaller cable channel than a big network. They let you do things a little differently, or a lot differently.

How did you get involved with “Crank Yankers”?

DC: I just ran into Jimmy Kimmell on the street one day, and he told me he had this new prank call show. I feel bad doing that stuff, though.

Why?

DC: ‘Cause you’ve got to be mean to the people you’re trying to trick, and I’m not good at that. When I was doing that call, Kimmell was in the corner going, “Meaner! Meaner!”

Yeah, the call you did wasn’t too mean, but it was funny.

DC: I’m just not a good mean guy, I guess.

I’ve also noticed you appearing on the Howard Stern show pretty frequently over the last year and a half or so. How did that come about?

DC: Completely by accident, really.

Was that time you were on with Dave Attell the first time you were on?

DC: No, I was on once before that, promoting my HBO special. Then I went on with Attell that time and we ended up hanging out there longer than I would have thought. It’s really cool, man. You watch the E! show and it looks so planned out and everything, but when you get there, it’s just like a room full og guys sitting around goofing on things.

I love when he has good comedians on, because it’s just a giant bullshit session.

DC: Yeah, man. It’s fun.

So when Howard says, “Dave Chappelle just stopped by,” are you really just stopping by, or are you scheduled to stop by?

DC: Nah, man. That time I went on with Attell, Howard gave me the open invitation to stop by whenever I wanted. So, I was like, “Well, I’m gonna try it.” So I just started stopping by. And they’re always real nice to me, like they appreciate me stopping by. I think Howard says that to people sometimes, to just stop by, but they usually don’t. I used to be scared of doing stuff like that, but it works. I started getting on “TRL” the same way, just by turning up in Times Square around three or four o’clock.

Cool. Alright, Dave, I think I’ve wasted enough of your time.

DC: Alright, man. I appreciate it.

Yeah, no, thanks for your time. We’ll go to press with this tomorrow, so maybe it’ll get someone to pop for a ticket or something.

DC: Yeah, cool. I’ll see you there, man.

Ok, take care.

DC: Ok, man. Thanks.


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One Response to “FUNNY FLASHBACK: DAVE CHAPPELLE”

  1. Zain Lilly January 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Very neat blog.Really looking forward to read more. Great.

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