Two weeks after going AWOL from his Comedy Central show, comedian Dave Chappelle has finally spoken out about his flight to South Africa. Denying that he's in a mental health facility or that he is on drugs, Chappelle chalked his disappearance up to a combination of stress, creative angst over the ideas for his show, and the fact that he's sometimes a "difficult dude."
Speaking to Time magazine, Chappelle said, "I'm not crazy; I'm not smoking crack." But a week after the third season of his "Chappelle's Show" was postponed indefinitely, Chappelle said he's definitely feeling intense pressure and needed to escape to get his head together.
"I'm definitely stressed out," Chappelle said, explaining why he abruptly left the taping of his show in late April to go on a "spiritual retreat" in South Africa without notifying his agent, publicist or fans.
"There were things that overwhelmed me," he said. "But not in the way that people are saying. I haven't spent any of the money. All that stuff about partying and taking crack is not true. Why do I live on a farm in Ohio? To support my partying lifestyle?"
Chappelle said the pressure to live up to the unprecedented $50 million contract he signed with Comedy Central for two more seasons of the show has definitely led to some intense stress, which he felt he needed to escape from.
"Let me tell you the things I can do here which I can't at home: think, eat, sleep, laugh. I'm an introspective dude. I enjoy my own thoughts sometimes. And I've been doing a lot of thinking here," explained Chappelle, described as "lucid and thoughtful" during a 90-minute interview.
"You hear so many voices jockeying for position in your mind that you want to make sure that you hear your own voice," Chappelle said. "So I figured, let me just cut myself off from everybody, take a minute and pull a Flintstone — stop a speeding car by using my bare feet as the brakes."
Two weeks ago — and just a day after Comedy Central began promoting the anticipated May 31 debut of the series' third season — the channel announced that production on the show had been unexpectedly postponed (see "Production On 'Chappelle's Show' Suspended"). At the time, Chappelle's spokesperson did not provide any other information, saying only that both sides expected to resume taping at some point.
Then, last week, Entertainment Weekly reported that Chappelle had checked into a mental health facility in South Africa (see "Dave Chappelle Reportedly In Mental Health Facility "). In his interview with Time, however, the comedian denied that report. "I'm not in a mental facility," Chappelle, 31, said. He also denied a drug problem, but said he had a 40-minute consultation with a psychiatrist.
"If you don't have the right people around you, and you're moving at a million miles an hour, you can lose yourself," Chappelle said. "Everyone around me says, 'You're a genius, you're great, that's your voice,' but I'm not sure that they're right. ... You got to be careful of the company you keep. It's hard to know how much to say. One of the things that happens when people make the leap from a certain amount of money to tens of millions of dollars is that the people around you dramatically change."
Though he'd heard other people talk about how fame can change you, Chappelle said he now knows firsthand how it not only changes your life, but also the lives of people around you. "You have to have people around you that you can trust and aren't just out for a meal ticket," he said.
Chappelle, who is staying with friends in Durban, South Africa, also chalked his flight up to dissatisfaction with the direction the show was going, saying, "I want to make sure I'm dancing and not shuffling. Whatever decisions I make right now I'm going to have to live with. Your soul is priceless." Because he felt the show's first two seasons had "a real spirit to them," Chappelle said he wants to make sure everything he does has a similar spirit.
Chappelle admitted that he's sometimes a "difficult kind of dude," and that when he left the show for the first time, in December, it was over similar "psychological" issues. At the time, his spokesperson said Chappelle was suffering from an intense bout of the flu. "I have trust issues," he said. "I saw some stuff in myself that I just didn't dig. ... There were some things about myself that I didn't like. People got to take inventory from time to time."
Speculation for the breakdown in the show's shooting schedule had also centered on creative tension between Chappelle and Comedy Central. But a network spokesperson denied any creative clashes last week and Comedy Central president Doug Herzog told Time that the racial-envelope-pushing comedian has "complete creative freedom" on the show. Chappelle also denied that Comedy Central was part of the problem.
His longtime writing partner, Neal Brennan, said if there were creative differences, they were not out of the ordinary and that, "By the numbers, this was the worst way to have done it. He couldn't think straight. It was fight or flight — and he chose flight."
Herzog — who said he recently finally saw a handful of the sketches Chappelle shot earlier this year which he thought were as funny as anything from the first two seasons — has told his staff that he doesn't believe the show will be back on the air in 2005.
"When I get back, [I hope] everything will be up and running, or we'll make other arrangements," said Chappelle, who did not give a timetable for when he might return to the U.S., or if he will return to producing the show when he does. "I don't know what the lay of the land is."
Chappelle said a number of prominent black entertainers have stepped up to offer advice — among them former Fugees singer Lauryn Hill — but it's the advice his father gave him when he decided to try comedy that has stuck in Chappelle's mind. "He said, 'Name your price before you get there. And if you ever find it's more expensive than what you're prepared to give, then get out.' "