I find it hard to believe “Chappelle’s Show” debuted 10 years ago on Comedy Central. If you’re a fan, you’re like me and throw out one-liners from the show every now and then. It was thought provoking, entertaining and just damn funny.
That’s why many of us were surprised when Chappelle abruptly quit during the third season. He’d just received a $50 million contract from the cable network, but went to South Africa instead, purportedly to get away from the paparazzi and clear his head. (“I want to make sure I’m dancing and not shuffling,” he famously told a reporter for Time magazine.) Nevertheless, it felt as though there never really was an honest explanation given–although many people had their opinions, of course.
Jason Zinoman’s new Kindle Single, “Searching for David Chappelle,” which came out last week, takes us back a decade and tries to fill in the mystery: why Chappelle quit and what brought him back to stand-up comedy. It was recently announced that Chappelle would be headlining a comedy tour.
I discovered the Kindle Single from a New York Times article online; it was written by Zinoman himself (pretty good marketing technique). Zinoman takes small pieces of his Kindle Single and turns it into a much shorter article for the Times without giving anything away. It leaves you wanting to know more.
Zinoman, a theater writer for the Times, spent months researching and reporting for the book, traveling around the country and talking to people associated with Chappelle. Naturally, he attempted to speak with the elusive man himself, but Chappelle has not done many interviews since he disappeared from the limelight.
Still, the insight offered from many of the comic’s friends gives the reader a unique look into the mind of Chappelle, if only just a small part of it. There were things about Chappelle and his comedy I hadn’t known about before; the e-single made me eager to learn more. Zinoman did a great job of reporting, showing all the sides of what Chappelle faced and using experiences to illustrate how Chappelle quitting his hit show wasn’t actually a surprise.
If there is a knock against Zinoman’s Kindle Single, it’s that it simply isn’t long enough. I wanted to keep reading. But I think this is an evolving story, as Chappelle has rather quietly rejoined the stand-up comedy circuit. Eventually, I think he will talk to someone, and that could very well be Zinoman.
Zinoman dissected many of Chappelle’s recent stand-up routines. He’s seen Chappelle perform at least a half-dozen times, and he clearly views those performances with fresh eyes every time. He noticed that Chappelle leans heavily on his public quitting in his routine, and sometimes has a dark turn.
Zinoman might be the only one who really notices; after all, he’s studying Chappelle while others are there simply to laugh. While the audience is screaming with laughter, the glee doesn’t match the comedian’s face.
The root of Chappelle’s quitting comedy is theorized based on observations, dissecting Chappelle’s previous interviews and conversations with his friends. Zinoman educates the readers, but also leaves them with something to think about in regards to modern comedy subculture.
It was definitely worth the read and I hope Zinoman has more on Chappelle in the future.