Dave Chappelle didn’t know what the future held for him when he walked away from his hit sketch comedy series “Chappelle’s Show” while it was still at the height of its popularity and with a reported $50 million on the table. Looking back on the legacy he’s created as a result, however, the entertainer is confident he made the right decision.
Chappelle stopped by “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast on Thursday, May 7, and during his visit the host brought up the Emmy Award-winning comedian’s abrupt and shocking exit from the series ahead of its third season, as well as his subsequent battle for regaining the rights to the show, from which he emerged as the victor.
“I still can’t wrap my mind around it,” Chappelle mused when Rogan commended him on being “the first guy to get f****d over by the system, go public with it, and then get your money.” “But I do have to shout out Chris McCarthy over at CBSViacom. When we were working this out, his approach was someone who was actually trying to resolve something. It was amazing, man.”
The Grammy Award winner previously thanked fans for helping gain the attention of the powers that be, which resulted in the return of his licensing, and in his interview with Rogan once again credits the “court of public opinion. “It wasn’t a court of law. I don’t believe I would have got anything in a court of law,” he stated. “I think, in a court of public opinion, it was a good time for me to say my piece and through the years it wasn’t something I would harp on. When I’d do interviews and stuff, people would always ask me about it but it was something I was actually reluctant to talk about.”
Throughout their chat, Chappelle reiterated that his motivations for fighting to retain total creative control of his hit series go beyond financial motivations, which was why walking away from the substantial amount offered was even an option. “If you look at anything in life through the framework of money you’ll miss most of the picture. … What was so remarkable when I walked away from the show is that it was against incentive. People couldn’t understand it at the time. ‘It was so much money! How could you do that?’ but you know if I had taken that money and finished the show, I would have got the money but I might never have been the same.”
After leaving his show, the comedian felt a sense of freedom but also was convinced that his career would never recover. “It was freeing,” he admitted. “I was geared a certain way growing up because I wanted to make it in show business and boy that s- -t fell all the way apart and, as far as I knew my career was over, so where do we go from there?”
The fact that he was navigating uncharted career territory wasn’t lost on him either. “I’d never seen these things before,” he said. “I didn’t see anyone else do this and get back up … and the drumbeat is ‘He’s crazy, he smokes crack. He’s this, he’s that.’ It was a wild experience. The way people close to you react, like I had failed or I ruined my life.”
“When you’re cold, that phone don’t ring that often, and then I had over a decade of sitting in that choice, but I didn’t languish just that experience,” he continued. “I started doing stand-up for much better reasons than making it. I still enjoyed it.”
For Chappelle, going back to his stand-up roots meant that he could appreciate working to live, instead of only living to work. Since doing so, he’s found that he prefers the experience of being able to explore the locations where he performs for longer intervals of time, as opposed to hopping from city to city. “Normally when you’re successful in comedy, you get off the plane or the bus, you do the hit, you go back to the hotel, you get back on a bus, you don’t really see anything. … I kind of entrenched this philosophy that my memories are the most valuable things that I have.”
Although Chappelle’s unorthodox career moves have worked out in his favor, he still shared a word to the wise for those considering trying to mimic his path: “I would not recommend quitting your show the way that I did, if you can avoid it.”