Updated: Sep 5, 2019
Dave Chappelle is an enigma. His story is well documented from starting stand up at age 14 to his widely acclaimed stand up specials all the way to leaving the set of his successful sketch comedy show ‘Chappelle’s show’. Dave left the show and a 50 million dollar contract to flee to South Africa. He never outwardly spoke about the reason someone would leave the set of a successful show but in his last special before his 11 year hiatus, Dave hinted at many things. He talked about celebrity culture and how we’re all lead astray and manipulated by the media. He said something was wrong in hollywood and disappeared for years. In 2011, Dave returned to touring after years of only doing local club appearances. In 2016, he signed a $20 million-per-release comedy-special deal with Netflix and in 2017, he has released four standup specials so far, with the next one titled ‘Sticks & Stones’ coming out on August 27, 2019. The third special, Equanimity, was filmed in September 2017 at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C., and then on November 20, 2017, Chappelle filmed a fourth special, The Bird Revelation, at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. On December 22, 2017, Netflix announced the expansion of the deal to include The Bird Revelation, which was released with Equanimity on December 31.
The Bird Revelations was a last minute addition to the deal. It was recorded later than the rest of the specials, it was shorter than them, the audience was much smaller and the production value was clearly much lower. All the other specials looked and felt like specials you would get from a superstar like Dave Chappelle. They were filmed in arenas with thousands of people there and Chappelle was standing up the whole time. That might seem like a trivial fact but when Chappelle's standing the show becomes a stand up special and loses that intimacy that was ever so present in The Bird Revelation. It was filmed in The Comedy Store with a small crowd as Dave sat on a stool, smoked his cigarettes, told stories and interacted with members of the audience. Chappelle is a gifted storyteller. He’s able to take you on a journey using his words and giving you punchlines at unexpected moments while also being deeply profound. His humour is layered with absurd circumstances covering up social commentary. He’s able to teach you without you realizing he’s even doing it. Basically he’s able to mix in the medicine with the food better than possibly any comic ever, and he did just that in The Bird Revelation.
Chappelle is reminiscent of George Carlin but he takes a different approach to the way he spreads his philosophies and airs out his grievances. Carlin went on stage and ranted in essay format. What Carlin was saying was clearly written and rehearsed plenty of times and it never felt like he cared if people laughed or not. He was up there to say what was on his mind no matter how abrasive or aggressive the material was. It wasn't disguised or hidden. It was raw truth that would even be the punchline at times. Carlin wasn’t always like that, in fact during the beginning of his career he was very cookie cutter. He said that he abandoned the cookie-cutter gimmicks after he abandoned his mainstream dream that, by his own admission, blinded him in the beginning of his career. He wanted to be very mainstream and to appeal to a mass audience and then later on in his career he abandoned that gimmick and became more sincere, more philosophical and more open about his message. He credited psychedelics like LSD that got him in touch with his “true self” as well as the counter cultural shift that was happening in the early 70s thanks to the hippy movement. What Chappelle and Carlin both seem to have in common is that their material got more serious as they aged.
Chappelle came out of the gate with his widely acclaimed special ‘Killing Them Softly’. He had been doing stand-up since he was 14 years old and he was about 25 during the release of that first special. But even then, he spoke with a depth that seemed as though it was much older than his age. Everything he did was layered. Every joke he told, even the sketches on his hit show: the Chappelle show, they were all riddled with social commentary, critique and historical backing. Chappelle was always able to masterfully mix in the medicine with the food as opposed to being abrasive with it.
I feel like that was because of the racial barriers he faced as a black comic. George Carlin as a white person was able to come out with his rhetoric and be different. Before Carlin there weren’t many counter cultural white comedians that would critique all institutions as abrasively as he did. But a lot of black Comics come out with social commentary, especially during the time Dave Chappelle was coming out. There were people like Eddie Griffin, Chris Rock, Katt Williams and many other comedians who were doing social commentary. There's nothing that middle America hates more than the angry black guy, so for comedians it's a hard line to walk. You want to appeal to as many people and make them laugh but you also want to spread your philosophies and messages. So they had to refine that skill of being able to tell the truth and spread your message without making it in a way that it's hard to hear, preachy or make the white audience (which is the majority of the audience after a certain point of notoriety) feel comfortable.
Chappelle was able to carry that baton from George Carlin and turn it into something true to him. After years of doing stand-up, even during his hiatus, Chappelle came back to prove that he was even sharper than when he left. Chappelle’s comedy was a breath of fresh air in the oversaturated netflix stand up market. His material aged like wine when he came back with 4 specials, one of which stands alone. In this special Chappelle sits in a dimly lit room in the small comedy store as he sat on a stool atop a stage. He held a cigarette and blew the smoke in the air, it was reminiscent of old stand-up specials where you were able to smoke indoors. He sat there and spoke for about 49 minutes, much shorter than any other special he’s ever released. The special starts in the middle of the set which adds on to the last minute aesthetic of the special, even though this was Chappelle's most important special to date. He spoke about a variety of topics from the me-too movement to how it affects culture and how the media shapes our reality. It also happens to have punchlines riddled everywhere.
It felt like listening to a lecture from the funniest professor in the world. Even in his youth Chappelle's comedy had tons of historical depth but now it seems as though he’s been able to distill his big ideas to a palatable short format. There’s a video on YouTube right now which is an unofficial Chappelle special where he talks for 3 hours and 42 minutes, which is basically just a scattered, less distilled version of The Bird Revelations. Chappelle has clearly added to his repertoire of knowledge after having aged and traveled the world as a 45 year old man than he would have in his 20s.
Chappelle was able to shine a light on the deeply dark moment that was the me-too movement where everyone in the entertainment industry was being exposed. Everyone from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and much more. Chappelle took that grim and morbid topic and didn't make fun of it, but brought levity to it by shining a light at the absurdity beneath the insanity. The best comedians are able to take you to that place where there's most fear and bring a sense of levity to it, and that's exactly what Chappelle did here. He took the me-too movement and made it a moment of understanding, learning and humour towards our insanely backwards culture and nature as humans. The bit on Louis CK illustrates that point perfectly when he mocks and briefly condemns Louis for his misdeeds, but he does it from a point of understanding perverse human nature.
The title ‘The Bird Revelations’ was fitting because this felt as though it was revelatory. He referenced how this me-too movement was affecting our culture and how it was affecting how we as non celebrity regular people interacted with each other. Because it was culturally changing the way we interact with each other. We had, at least on social media, gone to a place of polar extremism. He talked about the nuances in the situations that nobody outside of a masterful comedian is allowed to discuss because of the climate. Dave and many other comedians have leeway to say controversial things and not get hated for it because everyone understands that comes with the job. Dave also talked about how there was beginning to be no room for imperfect allies, even though we are all human.
Chappelle provided biblical wisdom but applied it to modern times. He talked about Colin Kapernick and modern day martyrs that lead the charge of speaking out against the corrupt system even if it affects their flow of income when they don’t have to do that, even comparing Kaepernick and others like him to Jesus. Colin Kapernick was making millions and gave it all up for integrity. Chappelle talked about how Hollywood was not a place for moral absolutism. Throughout the show he kept hinting at the reason why he left, he kept reminding people of him leaving and compared it to the ride of Paul Revere. Paul Revere had one moment of Glory, Paul Revere rode through the town and woke everyone up and told them that the British were coming, then for the rest of his life Paul Revere was just reminding people of how he was Paul Revere.
Dave asks the question: “Where did I go if I didn't get raped?” People in the audience laughed but Dave kept a straight face. This was one of the moments where the special took that surreal serious tone. The switches in tone were the hallmark of the special. Being able to take these deep dark truths and mold them in with the rest of the humor was done masterfully. If you read between the lines It was more a TED Talk than a stand-up special.
Chappelle went on to say that he was going to tell the reason why he left but he was going to do it in a way that wasn't obvious and he talked about a book. The book was by an African American who was a Pimp in the forties named Iceberg Slim, the book was called ‘Pimp’. Chappelle called the book “The capitalists Manifesto”. He told the story of this p