Dave Chappelle's Interview - November 2000
By Ryan McKee
Original Interview: November 2000
“Nothing with pork in it. It’d be some kind of stir-fry vegetables. Because it’s got everything you need in it.”
That’s what Dave Chappelle answered when I asked him the final question of my big interview: “If your stand-up comedy act were a food, what would it be?”
What a dumb question. Why did I think that’s something I should even say out loud? Still, Dave was kind enough to give me an answer instead of roasting me for it. In fact, his answer would’ve been longer if his cellphone hadn’t died right then.
The following Q&A is the only piece in this book that we didn’t originally publish in Modest Proposal. I conducted it while a staff writer at Arizona State University’s weekly entertainment publication State Press Magazine. During this time, my editor Kevin Polowy would occasionally allow me to interview stand-up comedians and thus, the first seeds of starting a comedy magazine were planted in my brain.
I’m including the article because I tried to interview Dave again for every issue of Modest Proposal but never could make it happen. I wanted the chance to improve on my first attempt. However, not until June 2020 did I realize how much better I could’ve done with my first conversation.
I spoke with Dave four months after Dave Chappelle: Killin’ Them Softly premiered. In the stand-up special, he speaks at length on police brutality and how white people do not comprehend how truly fearful the Black community is about even interacting with police.
Fast forward nearly twenty years. Comedy and the world are much changed. And yet in Dave’s 8:46 special, following the death of George Floyd, his message is unchanged. He continues to deal with police brutality suffered by the Black community. At one point, Dave addresses Don Lemon’s criticism of celebrities not speaking out sooner about George Floyd. He yells, “Has anyone ever listened to me do comedy?”
That line hit me the hardest.
The spirit of this anthology is to reflect on how comedy has evolved. I want this book to be a reminder of how much has changed and must continue to change. Watching 8:46 makes me hopeful that comedy can help inspire better change in the world.
“Has anyone ever listened to me do comedy?”
In 2000, I hadn’t really listened to Dave Chappelle do comedy. Yes, I had repeatedly watched Killin’ Them Softly. A friend had recorded it for me on VHS tape, since I didn’t have HBO… or cable for that matter. Still, it didn’t even occur to me that my interview with him might be an opportunity to ask Dave some honest questions about police brutality in an attempt to better educate myself and our readers.
Instead I opted to ask him questions about Half Baked, if he was popular in high school, why the movie Screwed bombed, and weed. I didn’t avoid police brutality because it made me uncomfortable. It didn’t even register in my twenty-one-year-old white guy brain as something with more weight or immediacy than Dave’s jokes about weed. Because I wasn’t listening.
Today, less than a month since Dave’s 8:46 dropped on YouTube, it has nearly thirty million views. It’s infuriating that Dave has been unable to change his message. But that doesn’t stop him from delivering it and delivering it and continuing to deliver it.
Perhaps the world is finally ready to listen in a way we weren’t in 2000. I wasn’t ready to understand his message back then.
And Dave, while I don’t know what food I’d be, I’m certainly eating crow now.
RYAN MCKEE: I read the idea for Half Baked came from a joke you were doing in your act?
DAVE CHAPPELLE: It started out as just a one-liner. There are actually delivery services like that—so I’ve heard (he laughs). I thought that these guys must see a lot of different people. It’s a good way to look at the subculture of reefer. Then I saw Trainspotting and it was so dark. So, I said that if you applied that same principle to weed, it would be a comedy. That’s how it came to be. It’s one of those things that just happened.
Does everyone ask you to smoke weed with them?
Ever since Half Baked came out, someone has asked me that every day. Even now, it happens to me once a week.
You started doing stand-up comedy in high school. Is that right?
Yeah. I started going to comedy clubs when I was fourteen years old, after school, with my mom. And I never stopped.
Who are your main influences?
When I first started, Eddie Murphy was a big influence. Raw had just come out. Then in my later years, I got into Richard Pryor. I didn’t get how funny he was until I was older. His jokes have a lot of depth. I was too little to get the full scope of it. I also like Woody Allen a lot. He’s pretty nice with the stories.
If you had a choice between being the greatest comedian or the greatest actor, which would you choose?
If I could be the greatest at anything, and those were my only two choices, I’d much rather be a better comedian. I’d rather be Chris Rock than like Matt Damon. Comedy is the reason I’m here talking to you now. That was my start and I’ll always do stand-up.
What do you think made you first stand out from other stand-up comics?
I think I got a lot of attention because I was a really young guy, and I was incredibly proficient at comedy. People always assumed I was older. Even now, people think I’m in my thirties because they’ve seen me around for so long. Also, I was pretty driven in my younger years.
You went to a high school for the fine arts and studied theatre. Do you hear your old teachers, and are they worried about the weed material you do?
Actually, I just got an alumni-achievement award from my school. The ins and outs of my work, they might have some disagreement with, but I think they’re proud of me because while I was in school all I used to say is, “I wanna be a comedian.” They saw me go to comedy clubs every day after school. So, when it paid off, they were happy for me.
What were you more like—a popular kid or a class clown in high school?
Ya, I guess I was popular. Not like Fonzie-popular, but I dated my fair share of girls. I definitely wasn’t like the class clown. I’d sleep in class a lot because I’d be at clubs all night. So, I’d catch up on my sleep in class. I had a real “fuck it” attitude about school. I missed yearbook picture day my senior year. No class ring, no yearbook. I didn’t want any of that.
I loved your movie Screwed with Norm Macdonald and Danny DeVito, but what happened with it?
It kind of tanked, man. Nobody really did press for it. None of the stars did press for it. The studio had held on to it for a long time. It was just one of those movies that had all the right combinations on paper and had all great people working on it, but it was just one of those things that in the end didn’t mix well. But I got to know Norm Macdonald and to this day I maintain that he is one of the most hilarious people I have ever met. That guy is really fucking funny.
If your comedy was a food, what would it be?
Nothing with pork in it. It’d be some kind of stir-fry vegetables. Because it’s got everything you need in it.
Dave Chappelle's Cameo at Talib Kweli's CD Release Party
by Kevin Polowy
Original Article: 2003
Updated Intro: 2020
True story: When Ryan first mentioned this article to me, I had no recollection of what show he was talking about. Just goes to show that while smoking weed may an enhance an experience at the time, it clearly can have a damaging effect on how (or even if) you remember said experience. But no regrets here — though I guess I probably should’ve written an article about every show I’ve attended, who knows what else I’ve forgotten about. Ryan also has pointed out that I was on the Chappelle/Hip Hop beat well before that connection became much more widely known with the release of “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.” A true hip-hop/comedy journalism pioneer, if you will. And you know what, Ryan, I humbly accept your unbridled adulation in this regard, and you’re welcome for my service.
Also a true story: When Ryan worked for me at the ASU college newspaper in 2000 or 2001, I let him handle our chance to interview Chappelle when he came to Phoenix, with one caveat since I was arguably the bigger Chappelle fan. He had to request two extra tickets for the show for myself and a guest. Okay two caveats: I got the better seats, too. He came through, and I asked out this young woman I had been crushing on forever. We were in the third or fourth row (like I said I got the better seats), and it’s one of those theaters with the rotating stages. So Chappelle is mid-set when my date’s cell phone rings… and she answers it and starts talking to someone! A very large man in front of us turned around and told me to “shut my girlfriend up!,” but I was more nervous about Chappelle spotting us — he was facing the other way but the stage was revolving back toward us. She hung up in the nick of time. Anyone who knows how Chappelle feels about cell phones and shows knows he woulda roasted the fuck out of us. The date generally didn’t go well, but I didn’t care. My crush on her evaporated the second she picked up that phone.
Overall I’d give this article a C. Cheesy and cheap at times, but I stand by the M.O.P. and penis-vinyl jokes. But really I’m just glad this experience has re-entered my memory.
You never know who you’ll see at a hip-hop show these days. Rappers are known for inviting their contemporaries to make cameo appearances at their shows – especially if they’ve collaborated together – but every once in a while a guest spot still manages to amaze us. Or scare the shit out of us (ever see M.O.P.? They could say the “Pledge of Allegiance” and I’d been scared shitless).
At Talib Kweli’s recent CD release party at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, many a hip-hop head in attendance anticipated an appearance by someone like Mos Def, Common, or Black Thought. Instead, Kweli began a round of cameos (that would include the Boot Camp Clik and Dres from Black Sheep) by introducing funnyman Dave Chappelle, a move that had the near-capacity crowd buzzing. Let me just say we nearly peed ourselves. But in a good way.
Chappelle, who’s lent his comedic charisma to skits on both of Kweli’s albums, bounced on stage and almost immediately had the crowd rolling. Not rolling as in rolling on E—most of us were stoned—but rolling as in “this dude is so funny I’m rolling! Hot damn I’m rolling!” As Kweli took a seat on the leather couch conveniently furnished onstage, Chappelle did more bullshitting than standup, but mastered the improv the way Kweli can a freestyle. Suddenly, the smell of urine was in the air.
Mimicking his skit on Kweli’s Reflection Eternal LP, Chappelle introduced everyone on stage while doing a Nelson Mandela impersonation, complete with an echoed sound effect. He then introduced the man on the platters, DJ Chaps, praising his skills before joking, “Last week I saw this man scratching the shit up with his dick.” For a quick second we all imagined the poor chap cutting vinyl with his penis. Then we laughed real hard. If Chappelle has a gift, it’s purporting imagery.
The comedian remained on stage for a Chaps showcase and then joined Kweli on his first single off of the album, “Waiting For The DJ.” Chappelle sang along with Bilal’s catchy hook, and did a pretty damn good job on it. In fact, now it’s kind of hard to listen to that song without imagining Chappelle crooning over it. Fuck Bilal. I’ll take Chappelle any day.