Just Dave from the 'Block'

Comic Dave Chappelle ditched his freshly inked $50 million contract and disappeared from the public eye in the middle of production.

dave chapelle 88 (photo credit: )
dave chapelle 88
(photo credit: )
The subversive comedy series Chappelle's Show was a huge international cable TV and DVD hit until the summer of 2004, when comic Dave Chappelle ditched his freshly inked $50 million contract and disappeared from the public eye in the middle of production for Season Three. While fans are still waiting for the return of Chappelle's Show, at least Chappelle the person is active again, having returned to his roots as a standup comic and releasing Dave Chappelle's Block Party in cinemas worldwide this spring. Chappelle told Esquire magazine that he disappeared for several reasons, including pressure regarding his race-themed humor: "Where can a black person go and be himself and say something that's familiar to him and not have to explain or apologize?" Or as he told Oprah this past winter: "I felt in a lot of instances I was deliberately being put through stress because when you're a guy who generates money, people have a vested interest in controlling you." Interestingly, these themes are explored in depth in Block Party, Chappelle's primary mass-media comeback vehicle - filmed mere weeks before his "disappearance" to Africa and the American Midwest. Chappelle seems interested in fleshing out the troubled relationships in his public identity: the celebrity versus the down-to-earth neighborhood guy, the newly rich entertainer who gives something back to the man on the street, the participant in a community of "alternative" black entertainers whose audience is largely white. While Chappelle's personal tribulations lurk as an unavoidable subtext in Block Party, the movie is primarily a document about an actual event thrown on a Brooklyn side street. Endearing sequences of Chappelle interacting with performers, planners and small-town Ohio invitees - of the famous and non-famous varieties - pepper footage of some amazing musical performances. After all, this is a concert movie more than anything else. From the killer sets of Mos Def, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu and Big Daddy Kane - almost all of which are backed up by Philadelphia's The Roots, acting as "house band" - to the "surprise" Fugees reunion finale, the alternative R&B and rap music showcased in the movie is top-notch. Viewers skeptical about hip hop might even become converts by the time the credits roll. As Chappelle puts it at one point: "This is the concert I always wanted to see!" Michel Gondry, who directed the movie, is most famous for having directed and co-written Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the Versailles-born filmmaker also has a strong music background, with video compilations for Massive Attack as well as the Chemical Brothers on his resume. Block Party's shoestring/freewheeling feel is fun, but its hand-held jerkiness does wear on the eyes. Chappelle tells the audience after the party that he's had "the best single day of my career," and knowing that he temporarily and abruptly called it quits shortly thereafter colors the viewer's evaluation of this comment. Ultimately, Chappelle's Comedy Central sketches and performance in Half Baked are far more entertaining than the bits showcased in this movie, but it's easy to see why those achievements may be less gratifying to him personally at such a poignant crossroad. Dave Chappelle's Block Party opens at Lev Cinemas in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Thursday, July 13.