Who Is Dave Chappelle?
Born in 1973 in Washington, D.C., Dave Chappelle began pursuing a career in stand-up comedy in high school. He made his film debut in Robin Hood: Men In Tights in 1993 and starred in the stoner comedy Half Baked later in the decade. The comedian hit the big time in 2003 with the launch of Chappelle's Show, before he abruptly walked away from the wildly popular program on the eve of its third season. Chappelle resumed touring as a stand-up comic in 2013 and later delivered a series of acclaimed specials for Netflix.
Comedian and actor David Khari Webber Chappelle was born on August 24, 1973, in Washington, D.C. Chappelle's parents were both professors: His father, William, taught at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and his mother, Yvonne, worked as a professor at Howard University and then the University of Maryland, while also serving as a Unitarian minister. Chappelle's parents separated when Dave was 6 years old, and he subsequently began splitting time between his parents' homes in Wasington and Ohio.
Inspired by the sitcom The Cosby Show and its star, comedian Bill Cosby, Chappelle decided he, too, wanted to have a career as a comedian. As a high school student at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., Chappelle began a stand-up career. Because he was underage, his mother often had to accompany him to clubs as a legal guardian. Even at an early age, Chappelle's brand of humor was controversial, leading to frequent heckling—he was even booed offstage during amateur night at New York's famous Apollo Theatre.
TV, Films and Comedy Specials
'Robin Hood: Men in Tights,' 'Comic Relief VI'
Dave Chappelle decided to forgo college to start a stand-up career in New York City. By the early 1990s, he had begun earning accolades for his work in comedy. He made his film debut in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) and became the youngest comedian to be featured on the HBO special Comic Relief VI (1994).
Chappelle also began to make his way into television, scoring the first of the many TV deals he would eventually be offered at age 18. Of the pilots that he shot, only one made it to the air: Buddies, a Disney-produced ABC series focused on two friends living in New York City. Unfortunately for Chappelle, the series was canceled after just four episodes, but his celebrity continued to grow thereafter.
'The Nutty Professor,' 'Half Baked'
Chappelle began making appearances in more films in the '90s with more significant parts. He starred in The Nutty Professor in 1996, alongside Eddie Murphy, and made his way into three popular films in 1998—Woo, You've Got Mail and Half Baked. The same year, Chappelle's father died, forcing the comedian to reevaluate his life.
'Killin' Them Softly,' 'Undercover Brother'
From there, Chappelle filmed the immensely popular comedy special Killin' Them Softly in 2000, followed by the film Undercover Brother in 2002. While his popularity continued to grow, he had yet to encounter the role that would catapult him to superstardom.
'Chappelle's Show' and Seclusion
In 2003, Dave Chappelle landed his own show on the Comedy Central cable network, entitled Chappelle's Show. Chappelle received three Emmy Award nominations for the wildly popular and controversial show, which frequently addressed race relations and featured musical guests. The provocative comedian not only gained the attention of popular TV personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Inside the Actor's Studio's James Lipton, he was offered a massive TV deal from Comedy Central after only two seasons, a reported $50 million for an additional two-year contract.
Chappelle's Show was about to begin its third season when Chappelle abruptly left during production in 2005. Unhappy with the direction the show had taken and pressured by network executives to change the tone of the comedic series, Chappelle left the United States to visit South Africa. Upon his return, he began living a more reclusive life, moving to Yellow Springs, Ohio, and making only a handful of public appearances. In 2006, he released the documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party—one of his last moments in the spotlight for several years.
In February 2013, to the surprise of many, Dave Chappelle surfaced at the famed New York City comedy club The Comedy Cellar. He was later joined on stage by comedian Chris Rock and the two discussed the possibility of a tour, exciting many fans. Following the unexpected appearance, Chappelle made a more formal approach to his return to stand-up, performing several scheduled stand-up gigs throughout the South, including Atlanta, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Chappelle also headlined the Funny or Die Tour, beginning in Austin, Texas, on August 23, 2013. He referred to his exit from Comedy Central during his set, telling the audience that "It’s easier to resign as the Pope than it is to quit a cable show."
More Screen Appearances and Specials
'Chi-Raq,' 'A Star Is Born,' Netflix
After making his return to the big screen in Spike Lee's Chi-Raq (2015), Chappelle delivered a series of concert specials for Netflix in 2017, eventually winning Best Comedy Album for The Age of Spin & Deep in the Heart of Texas at the 2018 Grammy Awards. That year, he also enjoyed a supporting role in Bradley Cooper's remake of A Star Is Born.
In May 2019, the Kennedy Center named Chappelle the winner of its prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. A few months later, Netflix released another Chappelle stand-up special, the Grammy-winning Sticks & Stones.
Wife and Children
Chappelle and his wife, Elaine, have two sons, Sulayman and Ibrahim, and a daughter named Sonal.
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