There are a handful of comedians with a legendary status, but I don't want to hear from any of them the way I want to hear Dave Chappelle.
Joe Biden’s presidential victory became real on Saturday, and when it came time for “Saturday Night Live,” I didn’t want to hear Jerry Seinfeld telling jokes about nothing. Good thing Chappelle was on tap as the host.
The timing of his appearance couldn't have been better. The country awaited the results from key states, with major news outlets finally projecting the winner mere hours before the show.
Just like when he hosted four years prior, the country seemed to look towards Chappelle for perspective. And while he doesn't always get it right — his words in 2016 about giving Trump a chance have aged like Quibi — I'm most impressed that he used his moment to talk about his great-grandfather William David Chappelle.
"He was born a slave in South Carolina,” the comedian told the audience. “Was a slave for 10 years of his life. And when the Northerners came down, they started educating some of the newly freed Black children, and he learned how to read. Become a man of education and dedicated his life to three things: Education, freedom of Black people, Jesus Christ."
His great-grandfather also served as president of the historically Black Allen University in Columbia, where Chappelle Auditorium is named after him. In 2017, in the newly renovated auditorium, Chappelle spoke to a full house and was interviewed by Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.” He has frequented the city since.
When I met him earlier this year, he was unassuming, wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and a weathered hat trumpeting Andrew Yang (whom he was supporting for president). His appearance, had I not known who he was, would have made me think, "Damn, that homeless guy with a cigarette looks kind of like Dave Chappelle."
That seems to be his superpower: Despite the millions of dollars and fame, he's a philosophical everyman that still has moments of optimism.
His monologue on “SNL” was brilliant. It was brilliant because it wasn't perfect. Once again, after more than three decades, he showed himself to be someone who can own a room and still feel fear. Indeed, he admitted to nerves when he ran out on stage.
Not every moment landed (see: his Freddy Mercury AIDS joke), but he achieved poignance, especially when advocating his “kindness conspiracy."
"Random acts of kindness for Black people. Do something nice for a Black person. Just because they're Black. You got to make sure they don't deserve it. It's a very important part of it, they can't deserve it. The same way all them years they did terrible things to Black people just because they're Black. And they didn't deserve it."
His esteem in 2020 is built on not just this monologue (and the fact that he can effortlessly drop an N-bomb on “SNL” and Lorne Michaels has to eat it). There’s also this year’s “8:46” special released after the killing of George Floyd, named after the amount of time police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck. The special isn't funny, and moments in the monologue weren't either.
"I can't even tell something's true unless it has a punchline behind it," Chappelle quipped on Saturday night, teasing his intention to be more than just a comedian.
Indeed, when he spoke at Allen in 2017, the non-punchlines were just as great as his jokes.
"(There's) this idea that people are trying to replace the ideas of good and bad with better or worse, and that is incorrect,” he was quoted by The UnDefeated. “You gotta keep your ethics intact, because good and bad is a compass that helps you find the way, and a person that only does what's better or worse is the easiest type of person to control. They are a mouse in a maze that just finds the cheese, but the one who knows about good and bad will realize he's in a maze."
For all that's wrong with 2020, we are so lucky to have Dave. Ain't nobody wanted to know what Kevin Hart thought about Biden winning the presidency. Dave is the GOAT, and it goes far beyond the punchlines.