Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dave Chappelle Shows Up At the White House

Posted by Adam Howard at 12:59 PM on July 20, 2007.

Adam Howard: The unpredictable comedian is spotted at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., says he'd like Tony Snow's job.
Chappelle as

I should preface this by saying I'm a diehard Dave Chappelle fan. But this incident is just random, keep in mind it was reported this weekend that Chappelle was hospitalized this weekend for "exhaustion".

CNN correspondent Ed Henry writes:

As I arrived at the White House by foot, I noticed a small group of Secret Service officers gathered around a man with a black backpack but didn’t think too much of it. People with backpacks somewhat routinely show up at the White House gates saying they have an appointment with the president, when they really do not. Thankfully, the backpacks are usually just full of harmless literature about the individual’s pet cause. The Secret Service may take a brochure about Power Yoga or something, and the individual goes on his merry way without incident.
But as I headed through the screening machine in the Secret Service’s security shack, I overheard someone say, “Hey, that’s Dave Chappelle out there. That’s Dave Chappelle, I’m telling you.”
“No way,” I said. “Isn’t he in the hospital?”
But then I spun around and looked through the glass of the security shack to find a guy who indeed looked exactly like Chappelle. I couldn’t resist chasing a story — even a non-political one — so I grabbed my backpack and headed back to the street.
A man was standing at the gate asking Chappelle, “Are you who I think you are?”
Chappelle scrunched his face into that familiar pose and declared: “And who do you think I am?”
Confirmed — it was him. So I introduced myself and started walking with Chappelle toward the Treasury Department.
Chappelle looked healthy in a pair of black athletic pants and matching polo shirt. But there was a solitary cigarette with a lighter cupped delicately in his left hand as he walked casually, politely stopping at one point so that he did not step in the way of a tourist snapping a photo of her family in front of the North Portico of the White House.
I asked what he was doing in Washington. “I’m just taking a stroll from Georgetown to the Hill,” he said, reminding me that he hails from Washington, his time in the city being one of the funnier riffs on his show.
Chappelle said he was feeling good and then asked me a question about covering the White House. “Has the president given you a nickname?” he asked.
Believe it or not, this is a frequent query because the president used to hand out nicknames to reporters like “Stretch” to a tall guy and “Super Stretch” to an even taller correspondent. But that’s sooooo 2001 — I started covering Mr. Bush in the second term so I never got one.
“Oh,” Chappelle cracked. “That’s my favorite part of the Bush presidency — the nicknames.”

Since Chappelle made international headlines in 2005 by essentially disappearing for awhile under strange circumstances — and walking away from a $50 million deal to continue his show on Comedy Central — I asked what he’s doing next.
“I want your job,” he said, explaining that it’s fun to watch reporters go back-and-forth with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.
“Or maybe I’ll take Tony Snow’s job,” Chappelle smiled. “I think that’s a cool job.”

I think Dave Chapelle is the most interesting and exciting comedic talent of the last ten years probably. Sure Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are also amazing but with his brief but incredibly popular Chappelle's Show he really struck a cultural nerve. Yes he could be crude and offensive but he also had the most biting satire on race and American culture since the best days of Chris Rock and Richard Pryor. So like a lot of his fans his erratic behavior of late has been a tremendous letdown.

First there was his controversial choice to abandon a multi-million dollar deal to return to his landmark Comedy Central show. That didn't bother me too much. I loved the show and wanted to see it return but Chappelle cited real, genuine personal and professional concerns with the work he was doing and in the end he valued his principles more than the money. It's the fact that he's denied the majority of the public his gift, with the exception of the fantastic, widely overlooked documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party, ever since that's bugged me. If you're a fan like I am you listen with equal parts frustration and intrigue when you hear of a surprise appearance here or a record breaking stand up act there.

This past weekend, Chappelle was officially admitted to the hospital for "exhaustion", an explanation so long used as a front for celebrity drug or other woes, that even the anchor person announcing it on the channel I was watching could not mask their skepticism. But for me, this was not Britney Spears or some other untalented hack acting out, this was someone I really think has interesting things to say through comedy and I want to hear about his next project, not about him winding up in a hospital for god knows what reason. I don't know if he was really just "taking a stroll" or if he was looking for material. But I hope Chappelle will start making me laugh again sometime real soon. If you don't know Chappelle, are on the fence about him or need an explanation for why I like him so much. Check out the video to your right.


Tagged as: chappelle, comedy, snow, white house, race, pop culture

Adam Howard is the editor of PEEK.

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