Months after he walked off the set of his show last year — bringing production to a crashing halt amid rumors of drug problems, writer's block and spiritual crisis — Dave Chappelle has finally given an in-depth interview about what happened.
On Friday (February 3), he appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and said he still wants to do his show. "I don't want the money, I don't want the drama. I just want to do my show again."
But before that can happen, he said, he has a few conditions, like creating a "proper working environment" and finding a way to "unload the money" in a more socially responsible way, so that it goes to people who have supported him instead of those who he feels exploited him. "If I give the money back to people who suffered in Katrina," he started, before Oprah interrupted him to remind him that he was on national television and shouldn't promise to give away the money if he didn't mean it. "I didn't say I was going to — I'm just saying I want to," he said.
"This is what I'm envisioning," he said to the camera, addressing Comedy Central, which broadcasts his show. "This is what we do. We restructure the deal. ... I think I'm more than willing to finish what we started. I want to be clear: I'm not mad at anyone anymore."
Chappelle said he left the show, months after signing a $50 million deal for its third and fourth seasons, because he felt manipulated by the people around him.
"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," he said.
The comic stunned fans, his staff and Comedy Central by abruptly leaving the show in mid-production last May (see "Production On 'Chappelle's Show' Suspended") and heading to Africa for two weeks before returning to his home in Ohio. He has since resumed stand-up work.
Chappelle clarified that when he left the show, "I wasn't walking away from the money, I was walking away from the circumstances," he said. "I was feeling overwhelmed, and some of it felt like as if this was happening deliberately."
Though that sounds paranoid, he insisted that he hadn't lost his mind, but he had been "incredibly stressed out." Besides, he joked, "What's a black man without his paranoia intact?" And later, explaining that his $50 million paycheck only increased the problems he was having trusting people, he said, "You win a poker game and you're on the subway, you're going to look over your shoulder."
"I'm a conspiracy theorist, to a degree," he said. "But I forgot the hostility of show business. You can't imagine what celebrities go through. I love being famous, but it's the way people around you position themselves to get in your pockets and in your mind. It's infuriating."
Chappelle said that his team played mind games with him, putting up walls around his work space even though he didn't want them, planting false stories in the press and treating him as if he were already crazy. "They put in the paper that I had pneumonia, but it must have been walking pneumonia, because I was walking all over the place," he said. "And in the paper the next day, it said that I had writer's block. I was like, 'What's going on?!' "
He said he was already considering leaving the show because of some "ugly" negotiations when his contract was up, and he made up his mind to leave when "they were were trying to get me to take psychotic medication." Without specifying who "they" are, he said that these were the same people who "knew what was going on," meaning that they knew he was just overwhelmed, not insane. "This was troublesome," he said. "They're trying to control and discredit me, and there was no question that I was stressed out, but it's even more stressful for them to say you're insane. I had considered walking. ... I got ahead of schedule and I bounced."
That he didn't tell anyone except his brother — not even his wife and children — where he was going only confirmed his insanity to some. "I was thinking, I didn't want obstruction, I'm not telling her until after I was done," he said. "It was a mistake — not a crazy mistake, but a dude mistake."
He was then asked why he went to Africa. "One, I needed a break. Two, I have family friends there. And three, it's a place where I could reflect," he said. What about the rumors that he went to check himself into a psychiatric hospital? "Who goes from America to Africa for medical attention?" he asked incredulously. "That sounds like the most irresponsible journalism in the world."
Of course, the quotes from his friends and colleagues that he was "spinning out of control" didn't help matters much. "I felt sold out," he said, pointing out that friends should have been dispelling rumors instead of starting or aggravating them.
"The hardest thing to do is be true to yourself — especially when everyone's watching," he said.
While the status of "Chappelle's Show" remains uncertain, Comedy Central announced late last year that four half-hour episodes containing material taped before Chappelle's departure would air this spring (see "Chappelle: Material From Unfinished Season To Air In '06 — Sneak Peek Airing Sunday").