Dave Chappelle Biography

Comedian, actor, and writer

Born August 24, 1973, in Washington, DC; son of William Chappelle (a voice teacher and college professor) and Yvonne Seon (a Unitarian minister and college instructor); children: two sons.

Addresses: Agent —United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.


Began performing in comedy clubs in the Washington, D.C., area, c. 1987; moved to New York City, c. 1990. Television appearances include: Home Improvement, ABC, 1995; Buddies, ABC, 1996; Late Night with Conan O'Brien (guest correspondent), NBC, 1998-99; Killin' Them Softly (special), HBO, 2000; Crank Yankers, Comedy Central, 2002; Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central, 2003—. Film appearances include: Robin Hood: Men in Tights, 1993; Undercover Blues, 1993; Getting In, 1994; The Nutty Professor, 1996; Joe's Apartment (voice), 1996; Damn Whitey, 1997; Bowl of Pork, 1997; Con Air, 1997; The Real Blonde, 1997; Half Baked, 1998; Woo, 1998; You've Got Mail, 1998; 200 Cigarettes, 1999; Blue Streak, 1999; Undercover Brother, 2002. Co-author of screenplays, including: Half Baked, 1998.


Dave Chappelle hosts the ferocious sketch-comedy series Chappelle's Show on cable's Comedy Central Network. On it, he warns viewers that they are watching "America's No. 1 Source for Offensive Comedy," because it features Chappelle and

Dave Chappelle
his fellow cast members in daring, often politically incorrect skits that poke fun at racial stereotypes in America. Since its debut in 2003, Chappelle's Show has garnered both a cult following and critical accolades. Yet its creator was pragmatic about his success. Referring to the courtroom drama occupying former superstar Michael Jackson, Chappelle noted to an audience in California that "one day people love you more than they've ever loved anything in the world," he reflected, according to a Sacramento Bee article by Jim Carnes. "And the next, you're in front of a courthouse dancing on top of a car."

Chappelle was born in 1973, in Washington, D.C., and grew up in one of the tougher areas of the nation's capital. He was the first of three children born to parents who were teachers. They divorced when he was six, but both remained a part of his life and strove to provide him and his siblings with the education and cultural awareness to succeed in life. "We had a picture of Malcolm X over the fire-place," Chappelle told St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Shauna Scott Rhone. "We were like the Huxtables with no money."

Chappelle was referring to television comedian Bill Cosby and the fictional Brooklyn family of Cosby's immensely successful 1980s NBC sitcom, The Cosby Show. He once read an article about Cosby's background, not so different in economic status from his own, and that inspired him to make a career out of being the joker in his family and circle of friends. By the time he started high school at the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District of Columbia, he was performing stand-up routines at area comedy clubs. Since he was underage, his mother—who was also an ordained minister—had to accompany him, but he said she had little problem with his hobby. "Crack was king in D.C., and kids my age were getting into incredible trouble," Chappelle explained to the Plain Dealer 's Ed Condran. "So it was an easy choice—running the streets doing crack or telling jokes at a nightclub making a little money and getting a lot of experience."

Chappelle's controversial brand of humor did not always win over audiences, and he was once booed offstage during amateur night at New York's famed Apollo Theatre. Forgoing college, he moved to New York City after high school, and found a more receptive audience at a comedy club in Greenwich Village. By the early 1990s, he was being termed one of a new generation of comedians on the scene, and even cited in a 1993 Time article in which author Ginia Bellafante wondered if Chappelle was "the brand-new funny Dave," a reference to late-night king David Letterman.

The buzz caused networks and studios to come calling, and Chappelle was offered a number of deals. "I said yes to everything," he told Condran in the Plain Dealer interview. "I thought getting a TV show would help make me a star. Little did I know what the reality would be." His first bad experience came with a 1996 ABC sitcom called Buddies. The show emphasized the novelty of an interracial friendship between two Chicago guys trying to start their own film-production business, and although 13 episodes were made, only four ever aired.

Chappelle had better luck in films, beginning with roles in comedies like Robin Hood: Men in Tights in 1993 and Eddie Murphy's box-office hit of 1996, The Nutty Professor. He was eventually signed to a deal with the FOX Network, which gave him executive-producer control of what was slated to be an hourlong show. But network executives allegedly instructed him to diversify his cast, and Chappelle refused. He publicly accused FOX of racism for dictating how many Caucasians they wanted on the series, and the plug was pulled before the untitled project ever went on the air. Closer to home, Chappelle was also experiencing family issues. His father, William, who had become a music professor at an Ohio college, was ill at the time, debilitated by stroke-related complications that eventually took his life. "It was a lonely, scary time for me. I thought I was done," Chappelle told New York Times writer Lola Ogunnaike.

Hollywood remained intrigued by Chappelle's biting, satirical wit, and he wrote a movie with a friend of his from the Greenwich Village comedy-club days, Neal Brennan. Their stoner caper Half Baked received predictably lukewarm reviews, but developed a cult following in video and DVD release. In addition to regular appearances as a correspondent on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Chappelle also landed parts in films like You've Got Mail, Blue Streak, and Undercover Brother. HBO offered him his own special, Killin' Them Softly, which aired in 2000.

After Comedy Central offered him his own show, Chappelle returned to work on his original idea for a subversive sketch-comedy series. Chappelle's Show premiered on the cable channel in January of 2003, with Chappelle as host and introducing the taped sketches to a live studio audience. They spoofed everything from techno-music car commercials to popular Hollywood movies. One skit was a parody of a wholesome 1950s sitcom, but the family had an unusual name, which forced the actors to utter a controversial racial epithet over and over.

Chappelle's brand of no-holds-barred humor also included his recurring character "Tyrone," an unapologetic crack-cocaine addict. Another recurring joke presented fake-television news updates on the upheavals in the economy caused when reparations checks for slavery began to be issued by the U.S. government. "What fuels this spotty but often funny sketch-comedy series is a kind of laid-back indignation, a refusal to believe that ignoring racial differences will make anyone's life better," wrote New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell,

Chappelle's Show became the number-one-rated show on Comedy Central, but its popularity proved an obstacle in front of some stand-up audiences. In one Sacramento gig in June of 2004, hecklers kept shouting a punchline from a skit about R&B singer Rick James from the show, and Chappelle walked off the stage for two minutes. When he returned, he chastised the audience, and expressed frustration that his television show was hindering what he really loved: performing stand-up in front of a live audience. In trying to quell the hecklers, he told them that he realized why they liked the show. "Because it's good," Sacramento Bee writer Jim Carnes quoted him as saying. "You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong," Chappelle continued.

In May of 2004, Hyperion announced plans to publish Chappelle's first book, How to Play the Race Card and Win. He was still working on film projects, including one about a late New York street comic named Charlie Barnett who was an early mentor of his. The Rick James skit was also being shopped around to movie studios in the hopes of turning it into a feature-length film.

In August of 2004, it was announced that Chappelle had signed a $50 million deal with Comedy Central for two more seasons of his show. Under the deal's terms, Chappelle also received a large portion of the series' DVD sales. A collection of the first season of the show became the most successful television-related DVD ever. On September 18 of that year, he hosted a reunion of the R&B/rap group Fugees in Brooklyn, New York. The event was recorded for a concert film/documentary. Later that year, Chappelle hosted the Directors Guild of America Honors and Stevie Wonder's ninth annual House Full of Toys benefit. The start of the third season of Chappelle's Show was delayed because Chappelle came down with the flu. The new season was scheduled to debut February 16, 2005, along with the DVD release of the show's second season, but was moved to spring of that year.

Married and the father of two, Chappelle lives in an Ohio farmhouse far from the entertainment-industry epicenters. He credits his own parents for giving him the resources to succeed, including lots of reading materials and a sense of community. "They taught me that if you trust the world, you can do incredible things. I've seen a lot of things and could think the world's a terrible place, but I wasn't raised that way," he told Rhone in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.



Billboard, October 2, 2004, p. 20; December 18, 2004, p. 23.

Broadcasting & Cable, July 20, 1998, p. 45.

Daily Variety, October 27, 2003, p. 1.

Entertainment Weekly, May 10, 1996, p. S8; May 14, 2004, p. 72.

InStyle, December 1, 2004, p. 378.

Jet, December 21, 1998, p. 55.

New York Times, March 23, 2003, p. 24; February 18, 2004, p. E1.

People, March 9, 1998, p. 67; March 24, 2003, p. 22.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), April 5, 2003, p. 5.

Sacramento Bee, June 17, 2004.

Seattle Times, September 27, 2002, p. H5.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 1, 1999, p. E3; June 17, 2004.

Time, August 2, 1993, p. 63.

Variety, January 26, 1998, p. 67.

Washington Times, December 23, 2004, p. B6.


"Chappelle renews for $50 million," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/TV/08/03/television.chappelle.reut/index.html (March 2, 2005).

—Carol Brennan

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