Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dave Chappelle: Comedy of Resistance?

Dave said "peace" to Hollywood and left

Most of us are probably familiar with Dave Chappelle's sensationalized exit from comedy; Chappelle turned down a contract valued at $50 million and left to South Africa on an emotional and spiritual trip. The media claimed everything from a "bad laugh" to crack addiction as the cause for Chappelle's flight, but his 2009 interview on Inside the Actor's Studio offers some real insight into what happened to him in Hollywood and why it drove him to escape America. See the full video below. 

The quote below is taken from Lyndsey Wetterberg's dissertation on Chappelle's Show, Dave's comedy Central sketch comedy show. Wetterberg argues that integral to Chappelle's Show's function and mission is an engineered response to a white popular media's definition of black masculinity. She posits in her abstract:

" analysis examines the idea of comedy as resistance to dominant society, specifically to race and gender norms and thus to limited expectations and representations of black masculinity. The selected sketches exemplify how humor de-centers popular narrative and positions the world within a marginalized perspective." (Wetterberg 1)

(Here is the citation for anyone interested in reading more from Wetterberg's dissertation)
 Wetterberg, Lyndsey L. “Deconstructing "Chappelle's Show": Race, masculinity, and comedy as resistance”. Minnesota State University, Mankato, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2012. 1515209.

Keeping this quote in mind, take a look at these three sketches (the names are links) from the show that are discussed in both Wetterberg's piece and on Inside the Actor's Studio: the "Pixie Sketch", the "Frontline Report: Clayton Bigsby" sketch (here's part two), and the "Niggar Family" sketch.

Do you think these sketches "de-center" the focus from the dominant popular narrative on the issues they contain, or are they an extension of that narrative that fails to challenge it?

In my in-class presentation (date tba due to my late arrival to class last Thursday) we will go into Chappelle's personal experience a lot more but it would be great to hear some candid responses to his work here first.

Feel free to share any reactions you have to the Inside the Actor's Studio interview as well, especially regarding Lipton's tone/attitude toward Dave and the sketches he chose to highlight during the interview or his request that Dave dance for him (which is apparently something he asks his guests often but seemed really strange to me).

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