Wait, Is Chappelle Coming Out Of Retirement?
I have a question, and I don't want to say it too loudly, because every time someone starts asking, it seems to cause a problem, but is Dave Chappelle coming out of retirement? I'll give you permission to be cautiously optimistic, especially with the announcement on Friday that Chappelle will host the Nov. 12 episode of Saturday Night Live. But everybody be cool, alright? If I had to take a stab at Chappelle's mindset right now, I'd guess that he wants to come back, and it's really up to his fans to facilitate that. After all, it was a reaction to his skyrocketing fame that made him ditch out on Chappelle's Show midseason and vanish to South Africa in the first place; he didn't like the way his personal life was being intruded on, and he missed having the time and space to do human being stuff, like walking around and eating and sleeping in peace.
It was over a decade ago that the comedian left the spotlight, and until recently, any appearances Chappelle made in the interim were sporadic and often unannounced and under-promoted, not that it made a difference for ticket sales. Chappelle seemed to be drifting a bit, telling Time in a 2005 interview that he was feeling the need to "check his intentions," and make sure his career and sense of self didn't get away from him. He said,
"If you don't have the right people around you and you're moving at a million miles an hour you can lose yourself. Everyone around me says, 'You're a genius!'; 'You're great!'; 'That's your voice!' But I'm not sure that they're right."
Basically, once he surpassed a certain level of fame, he didn't feel like he was getting honest answers from the people around him, and that extended from his inner circle all the way to his audiences. So when Chappelle started doing more regular shows in 2013, making his return to stand-up comedy, it was heartening to see him being more honest with his fans, instead of retreating. After being heckled at a show in 2013, Chappelle refused to continue performing, sitting silently onstage until the end of his set. But hey — he didn't leave. That suggests to me that he's made great use of his time away, getting his head right and building up a callus of sorts, so that people can't break right in and mess with his psyche. It's a theory that's supported by Chappelle's own words in a conversation with the Associated Press in 2015. When asked why he was steadily building back his career after such a long time away, he responded,
"This is a very surprisingly emotionally charged time, so people like me, I think, are very relevant and necessary in sorting through all this information and emotional content. And when we are at our best, hopefully we are doing a great service to many people."
Those are the words of a man who knows himself and is in touch with his purpose, while the Chappelle who left before was someone who didn't know either of those things and seemed to be grappling with both. If I look at the arc of his career so far, and the way he's spoken about it during different intervals, it definitely does seem like Chappelle has figured out something big for himself, something essential to his ability to do comedy. And whether or not every project he's rumored to be connected to right now goes through — HBO special, anyone? — I think he's built up some skills in himself for dealing with the ravaging affects of fame.
Starting with SNL on Nov. 12, and hopefully extending to other upcoming work he's been linked to, I think fans will only see Chappelle strengthening those skills and returning, step by step, into the spotlight. And now our part of the bargain is to ensure no one makes him regret it.