Several weeks back, Lil Jon, Usher and Ludacris were in the "TRL" studio preparing for their performance of "Yeah!" But it wasn't "Yeah!" that was being yelled.
"Whuuuut? Whuuuut? Whuuuut?" Usher kept exclaiming, imitating a then recently aired skit on "Chappelle's Show" in which Dave Chappelle exaggerated the king of crunk's quirky call outs. "Okaaayyy! Okaaayyy!" Usher continued before Jon, who was stationed at the turntables, joined in and imitated Chappelle imitating him. "Whuuuut?"
The joke got so good that Jon started into another of Chappelle's skits, mimicking the comic's impression of funk lord Rick James. "Daaarknesss!" Jon yelled. The catch phrase comes from a skit in which Chappelle made light of real-life accounts given by Eddie Murphy's brother, Charlie, of partying with Rick James, getting into physical altercations, and then making up.
"F--- your couch, n---a!" Jon continued, trying to sound as close to Chappelle's imitation as possible. "They should've never gave you n---as mon-aaayyyy!"
"He's never gonna let that go," Ludacris said with a laugh.
Chappelle's fans, especially those in the hip-hop community, can't let go of the comedian's irreverent brand of social spoofing. Although the second season has come to an end, people are still talking about it.
"I think the best episode that I've seen thus far is him imitating Lil Jon," Usher said. "That was the craziest one. I don't think that it will ever be done better. It was classic. He got him real good. 'Yeeeaaah! Okaaayyy!' "
"This Dave Chappelle sh-- just really put me on a different level," said Jon, who claims to love the ribbing he gets on the show. "He basically has thrusted me into pop culture, and not just urban but white society as well. I was in the airport like three weeks ago, this 60-year-old white lady came up to me and was like, 'Aren't you Lil Jon? ... Don't you do that "Whuuuut? Yeeeaaah! Okaaayyy!" That's you, right?' "
Since Chappelle debuted his show last year on Comedy Central, the comedian has repped for rappers not only by making fun of them, but by bringing them on the program. Wu-Tang's RZA and GZA have been featured in skits, and Kanye West, Common and DMX have performed. "A lot of these guys are my friends, and I'm fans of all these dudes," Chappelle said. "I'm trying to get people who push the culture forward."
He even employs rap-world veteran Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots. "I am music supervisor for the Dave Chappelle show simply because I am a fanatic for Dave Chappelle," Thompson said. "He's a genius. He's a comic genius."
"I think he's good for the community and culture," said Roc-A-Fella mogul Dame Dash, who has appeared on the show. "He's the truth. He knows how to be political in a funny way. You see things from his perspective."
"I just think he took a great opportunity, since nobody [else] is out right now," Cam'ron said, pointing out that hip-hop has few places to be represented in comedy these days, without "Def Comedy Jam," "Martin," "The Chris Rock Show" or "In Living Color" on the airwaves. "There's nobody doing anything decent."
Chappelle has never had a problem making people laugh, standing out despite his small parts in movies such as "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," "Undercover Brother" and "Blue Streak." But when he tried to take his humor to TV, dealing with a network led to everything falling apart.
"I tried sitcoms before, and it's something about the way I'm funny that is not for that venue," Chappelle insisted earlier this year during a radio tour in New York. "People would never know the extent of how funny I was. I'd be like Urkel. I'd be rich, but I'd be Urkel.
"I love working here," Dave said of Comedy Central. "They give you the opportunity to actually be a comedian. On regular TV, you end up doing stuff that's not necessarily genuine, that's not necessarily you, just to appeal to a larger audience."
And keeping it real has helped Chappelle skyrocket to fame. Punch lines from his sketches are more often quoted these days than anything from similar series like "Saturday Night Live" or "Mad TV."
"I am totally freaked out," Rick James said, laughing. "It shocked the sh-- out of me. I had no idea that comedy had that much of an impact."
James' real-life phrases like "It's a celebration" and his most popular, "I'm Rick James, bitch!," have bled into popular culture thanks to Chappelle.
"It's helped Dave out, it's helped Charlie [Murphy] out, and it's helped me out," James said. "I've always been able to laugh at myself, the character Rick James. I created it, that extroverted part of James Johnson. I was able to laugh at myself 'cause that's what it's meant for, it's meant to have fun with. It's not meant to be serious."
For the record, James said that the skit's account of what happened "was true, it was just exaggerated. It was really me kicking [Charlie's] ass more than him kicking mine."
Prince, whom Dave also portrayed in a Charlie Murphy retelling, said his segment was also exaggerated. He didn't challenge Murphy to a basketball game while wearing high heels and a purple suit. "That part's not true," Prince said about his game attire. "But the whupping's true."
Though Dave has heard from the Purple One, Lil Jon and Rick James, the comedian said there has been no communication between him and another famous mic controller who found himself the butt of a sketch: R. Kelly. During the skit, Dave sings a song as Kelly, talking about how much he wants to urinate on a girl — something that happens in the sex tape at the center of Kelly's legal woes.
"The thing about it is, I'm an R. Kelly fan, but it's basically a song about peeing on people," Chappelle said. " 'Pee on You' was a doozy. But it's one of those things that it's too funny not to do. You might have a moral dilemma like, 'Should I do it?' But like I said, it's in the spirit of comedy."
"Chappelle's Show" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central, and with another season of original episodes in the can, Dave has hit the road. He's on a stand-up tour through July 3.
[Comedy Central is owned by MTV's parent company, Viacom.]
Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway and Joseph Patel