Ok, so Dave Chappelle has come back from South Africa and after ten long years, is finally blessing his fans with glorious comedy bits. Teaming up with Netflix was such a genius move on his part because it allows his comedy to instantly reach a larger audience.
His first specials, Deep in the Heart of Texas and The Age of Spin, came out early in 2017. His more recent specials, Equanimity and The Bird Revelation streamed on New Years Eve…and what a way to welcome the new year! Certainly, all four of his specials could be analyzed in depth, but let’s talk about the fourth one, The Bird Revelation, while specifically focusing on his closing routine.
Chappelle uses a literary analogy to shed light on society’s inner workings. Chappelle’s use of renowned pimp Iceberg Slim’s book, Pimp, helps the audience understand a bit about why Chappelle walked away from a $50 million dollar contract with Comedy Central. Chappelle considers Slim’s book an essential document to understanding capitalism, linking Slim’s phrase “mileage on a ho” (how many sexual encounters a prostitute can endure before having a nervous breakdown) to the standard nine-to-five workday in America (“nine to six might kill a bitch”).
In Slim’s book, there are major players that are crucial to the story. There is the pimp, the ho, the customer, and the movers. Why would Chappelle use this example to try to help others understand his stories? There are a myriad of conclusions one can come to, but here’s what I think.
The pimp is the network Chappelle was working for at the time, Comedy Central. The ho would be Chappelle. The customer is the audience and the movers would be the media.
Chappelle had a certain amount of shows he could produce before the audience would either realize he’s not funny anymore or grow bored and move on to some other comedian. Either way, there was a threat of an impending death. The network was expecting Chappelle to crank out ‘tricks’ – shows and various sitcoms – and they could see that Chappelle was approaching the end of his mileage. Chappelle could feel that he couldn’t go much longer and he wanted out. The network tried to convince Chappelle to do one more ‘trick’ – and promised a lot of money for it – before calling it quits. Unlike the story in the book, Chappelle snuffs out their rise and chooses to walk out. I suggest that the media are the movers because they are the ones who would control the narrative. However, since Chappelle’s story is a bit different, the role the media played is still at the hands of the network, but instead of holding something over Chappelle’s head, outlets like Entertainment Weekly spread vicious rumors about his mental health (which he denied).
This closing piece left me thinking deeply about who was playing which part. There are various interpretations to this story, I’m sure. I was also in awe of Chappelle’s storytelling talent. My curiosity has certainly been peaked regarding Iceberg Slim’s book. I’ll be spending the rest of my January amazed at how well Chappelle balances humour and speaking on pertinent social issues so well.