David Khari Webber Chappelle is legendary. Chappelle’s Show has become a popular staple in Black culture even though production has halted for almost 15 years. Fans have continued to enjoy re-runs thanks to syndication over the years and rejoiced when it was made available via Netflix and HBOMax in early November. The joy would become convoluted about a week later though when the comedian made some shocking revelations.
Chappelle made headlines while being at the height of his career and then just like that, he seemed to disappear. Reports of him walking away from a whopping $50 million and relocating to South Africa began to run rampant, and the elusive comedian gave no explanation for years while keeping a low profile.
The Sticks & Stones comedian finally broke his silence in an interview with Oprah where he candidly dispelled rumors questioning his sanity and explained why chose to make the decision he did. “One, I needed a break,” he says. “Two, we have family and friends down there [in South Africa]. I felt like it was a place where I could really reflect… And here’s the other thing: I was only gone for two weeks! They made it sound like it was so mysterious.”
The show’s production started off with Chappelle having creative control, with money never being an issue. He went into detail with Oprah about his time and experience on the show as his control began to slip from his fingers with structure shifting at Comedy Central. After a while, he couldn’t take it anymore and decided to leave, not for money or because of fame, but because of the newfound circumstances that came along with his growing profile.
“I’ve been in show business since I was 14, and I’ve heard the stories of what happens to performers when they achieve great wealth and fame,” Dave said to Oprah. “They start saying things like, ‘It’s the people around me. Everyone’s changed. I’m the same, but everything around me is changing.’”
He added, “I wasn’t crazy, but it’s incredibly stressful. And I felt like in a lot of instances I was deliberately being put through stress because, when you’re a guy that generates money, people have a vested interest in controlling you. And I feel like the people that were trying to control me were putting me through stressful situations. The way the people around you position themselves around you to get in your pockets and in your mind is infuriating to me.”
Fast forward over the years and we’ve seen Chappelle return in a massive way, taking the reins on his career. However, all hasn’t been as it seems, and he came forward recently to share some information pertaining to the popular show. The comedian recently appeared on Saturday Night Live and in the midst of his monologue spoke on his late great-grandfather, who was a slave until 10 years of age.
“I wish I could see him now and I wish he could see me. I wonder what he would say. This week I flew to New York on a private jet to host Saturday Night Live,” he said. “Netflix started streaming a show that bears his name, Chappelle’s Show, and HBO Max is streaming it. And I didn’t get paid for any of it! If he could see me now, he’d probably be like, ‘This n—a got bought and sold more than I have.’”
Chappelle is referring to the disturbing fact that he is no longer making money from his creation thanks to Comedy Central and also HBO. The comedian shared a brand new monologue on his Instagram called Unforgiven where he called out both networks as well as the industry at large, and although he’s making “jokes”, the comedian is being nothing short of serious. He claims that due to signing contracts when he didn’t know better, the network now owns his name and likeness “in perpetuity throughout the universe.”
“Do you know why Prince—the famous rock star who was a friend of mine—do you know why he called himself The Artist when he came back? He calls himself The Artist because that’s what they call us in our contracts,” Chappelle said in Unforgiven. “Oh, these contracts are crazy. You should hear the terminology they say in these contracts. ‘To use your name and likeness in perpetuity throughout the universe.’ Who the f—k could possibly know what that means? Nobody does.”
Chappelle says the contract was signed when he was a 28-year-old soon-to-be father that was desperate and needed a way out. Prior to taking his efforts to Comedy Central, however, he revealed that he originally brought his efforts to HBO, the same network that is now streaming the show via a licensing deal with ViacomCBS. “Did you know, before Chappelle’s Show was at Comedy Central, I pitched that show to HBO?” Chappelle says. “I told them what I wanted to do.”
He continued, “Now, these are executives, all they have to do is say, ‘Yeah we’ll take it,’ or, ‘No, thank you, we won’t.’ They didn’t say either of those things, they went too far. They said, literally, ‘What do we need you for?’ That’s what they told me as they kicked me out of the office, ‘What do we need you for?’ And here we are all these years later and they’re streaming the very show I was pitching to them. So I’m asking them, what do you need me for?”
The comedian said that his anger made him call Netflix to relay his feelings to them. While HBO has not commented on Chappelle’s claims, he expressed his appreciation for the streaming service because they decided to pull the show from their platform. “They agreed that they would take it off their platform just so I could feel better. That’s why I f—k with Netflix. Because they paid me my money, they do what they say they’re going to do, and they went above and beyond what you could expect from a businessman. They did something just because they thought that I might think that they were wrong. And I do.”
Chappelle then shares that streaming the show is like stealing, before pleading with his supporters to boycott his show. “If you ever liked me, if you ever think there was anything worthwhile about me, I’m begging you, please, don’t watch that show,” he says. “I’m not asking you to boycott any network. Boycott me, boycott Chappelle’s Show. Do not watch it unless they pay me.”