“Episode 1-7” (season 1, episode 7; originally aired 3/5/2003)
Not that Chappelle’s Show ever had to follow a particular flow in order to be successful, but there’s a choppiness to the first six episodes that suggests the show had plenty of strong content, but not always a clear idea of how to present it in the context of a single installment. This seventh episode doesn’t necessarily have the funniest material to date, but it passes by at a fantastic clip, effortlessly segueing from one bit to the next before ending with a lengthy, nerd-tastic final segment.
I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to write about these episodes, because Chappelle’s Show is a culturally important show, but also a sketch-comedy series. But not every single piece sustains the weight of such analysis. This week, I’m going to quickly describe each segment for those not following along with the rewatch, and then try to offer up some broader discussions when appropriate. It might work. It might not. But it’s clear that analyzing each bit in an academic manner isn’t the proper approach here. Hey, if Dave Chappelle can spend a few weeks honing the proper way to produce an episode, hopefully you’ll allow me the same in trying to find the best way to discuss them.
“Great Moments In Hook-Up History”: A sequel to a similar segment in the fifth episode, this 1983-based installment finds Chappelle dressed as Turbo from the cinematic break-dance classic Breakin’. Why? Who cares? It’s a funny visual. Repeatedly denied a chance to hook up with his intended target (by two friends described as having “14 cockblocks” just a year earlier), Chappelle’s would-be player eventually buys everyone enough shots to persuade all the women to all return to his abode where fictional pizza and non-existent weed are waiting for her friends. What instead unfolds is a sloppy hookup upon their passed-out bodies.
“Real Movies”: Chappelle looks at the ways movies would work in actual, everyday life over two separate segments. In the first, The Matrix gets reworked as the Neo-like figure gets duped into scurrying around the office… just to hand a stapler over to Chappelle’s co-worker. In the second, Pretty Woman ends almost before it starts, with the Edward Lewis character interrupting Vivian Ward’s monologue about how she became a hooker with, “Okay… You’ve gotta get the fuck out of here!”
“Wu-Tang Financial”: Continuing its exploration of fake-rap entrepreneurship, Chappelle’s Show introduces this firm dedicated to helping families solidify their financial future. Sample advice consists of: “You gotta play this game rough!” and “You need to diversify your bonds, nigger!,” both delivered to a nervous, if agreeable, Caucasian couple. If you’ve ever dreamt of your grandparents dancing to “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit,” this is the sketch for you.
“Ask A Black Dude”: Paul Mooney returns to answer two pop-culture-related questions. The first has to do with why black characters always die first in horror movies. The second comes from author Stephen King, who asks if black people prefer doing business with black professionals. King’s presence amuses a faux-horrified Mooney, who has his own “terrifying” script for Stephen King called “Nigger With A Brain.” “Let’s see how that scares people,” he says.
“Jedi Scandal”: Chappelle notes this sketch will be about “bad sex… like, Catholic priest/R. Kelly bad.” Instead of priests at the center of a molestation scandal, it’s the Jedi Council from Star Wars. Yoda holds a press conference at Skywalker Ranch to diffuse tension, but then a video surfaces of him doing cocaine with a gay Jedi Knight as Yoda discusses transferring him to another part of the galaxy. After Mace Windu condemns these allegations in the way only Samuel L. Jackson can (“Yes, they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell!”), Chappelle’s reporter Chuck Taylor (seen last in the reparations sketch in the fourth episode) gets Darth Vader to show on camera where Emperor Palpatine touched him as a child.
What works: Just about everything leading up to the final segment is great, primarily because of the show’s understanding of how long each part should last. Nothing overstays its welcome. The Pretty Woman parody is especially effective in this regard, because we only just settle into it before the show pulls the rug out from under us. King’s appearance is a surprise, and derived from the same on-location shoot that yielded the other on-the-street segments on the show thus far. Mooney’s answers are once again fantastic and edited to demonstrate how much he improvised them on the spot.
What doesn’t work: Given how much the show travels in broad stereotypical humor in order to prove a point, I probably shouldn’t quibble with the “hidden tape” segment in “Jedi Scandal.” But the humor there doesn’t work. The Jedi in it doesn’t reveal anything about gay culture so much as promote the worst assumptions about it. Also? For all of Chappelle’s love of geek culture, he couldn’t bother to learn how to pronounce Mace Windu’s name?
“Episode 1-8” (season 1, episode 8; originally aired 3/12/2003)
The eighth episode finds Chappelle’s Show settling into a groove in terms of figuring out the types of sketches it wants to produce coupled with enough previous installments to already have some familiar callbacks. If neither episode this week produces a truly classic segment, there are still plenty of moments to enjoy in both.
“Real Movies”: Apparently, the writers got carried away with this idea after hitting upon it, and added two more editions this week after introducing the segment in the previous episode. Ghost finds Chappelle sleeping with Demi Moore’s character soon after Swayze’s death, reducing the lookalike to tears as Chappelle’s character taunts him. Not one to make fun of others without also mocking himself, Dave’s own Half Baked also gets the “real” treatment. Instead of hatching an elaborate scheme to get their friend out of jail, all three main characters from the film (each played by the original actor) decide to simply smoke some weed and find a new roommate. Ah, Jim Breuer, you look so damn happy to be getting work.
“Great Moments In Hook-Up History”: Whereas the previous episode’s version of this was set in the breakdancing ’80s, this one takes place in a Pleasantville-esque ’50s. Of course, Toby Maguire never tried the “penis in the popcorn” technique on display in this iteration. Let’s take a moment of silence for this series because this is the last one that Chappelle’s Show ever aired. But honestly: Where can you go after narration by James “Skank” Scanton, a man with oral herpes so dark it looks more like a bruise? The bar has been either set so high or so low (depending on your perspective) that there’s little room for the series to maneuver going forth. R.I.P., “Great Moments.” Prepare to make way for a shitload of Lil Jon sketches.
“Frontline: Racist Hollywood Animals”: William Bogert returns as Kent Wallace to illuminate the seedy side of animals in pop-culture history. Accusations that Rin Tin Tin helped police attack African-Americans during the heights of the civil rights movement leads to a forensic study to determine the validity of the charge. A CSI-esque analysis of bite marks on a security guard’s rear-end confirms the story, which leads to a flood of subsequent charges. We learn that Mr. Ed also doubled as transportation for the Ku Klux Klan. Flipper? He liked to attack black swimmers for sport. Mos Def makes a guest appearance as a man formerly terrorized by the hateful bottlenose.
“What Men Want”: A quick, premise-based sketch that inverts the Mel Gibson movie to reveal (surprise surprise) that all men are gross pigs who only want to do unholy things to women’s posteriors. When an attractive women enters an elevator, she’s mentally assaulted by all the lascivious comments the men inside the elevator make. Even the pre-teen gets in on the mental act, thinking, “I’d put a hurtin’ on that bitch!” The scarred woman leaves the elevator as quickly as possible, leaving the men to celebrate being assholes. Wheee?
“Tyrone Biggums Crack Intervention”: Biggums is a classic Chappelle character: He’s reprehensible to the core, yet so likeable that you understand why everyone in this intervention actually cares enough to stage it. They trick him into coming by posting flyers for a “Free Crack Giveaway” at the time and place of the intervention. His inability to understand why the sign isn’t true is hysterical, with him repeatedly asking questions about its status the way a child might repeatedly ask for ice cream (“What’s going on here? Do we get crack at the end?”). The attendees then explain one after another how badly he’s hurt them, as well as himself. What did he do, exactly? He carjacked his sister’s vehicle, for starters. Then, he sold the home of a couple nice enough to take him in and give him $200 to obtain his real-estate agent’s license. Finally, he tried to sell anthrax to what he thought was a terrorist during his brief time as a postal worker. (The “terrorist” in question turns Tyrone in immediately.) In an episode chock full of guests stars, Isiah Whitlock Jr. appears as Tyrone’s former postal coworker. Clay Davis, y’all!
What works: Whereas the first Biggums sketch back in the second episode derives a lot of its shock value from having children listening to Tyrone’s experiences, this version is smarter, sharper, and yet still provides top-to-bottom laughs. Throwing Half Baked into the “Real Movies” mix is an example of how Chappelle was always game to make himself the butt of the joke, so long as it serves the sketch. The insanely low-budget footage of a man in a Flipper suit causing 20 people to flee a community pool should not work, yet works precisely due to its low-budget nature. It’s a trick Chappelle’s Show would put to great use later on down the line.
What doesn’t work: “What Men Want” is D.O.A.—it has a perfectly fine premise that uses the laziest, most obvious joke possible. A little variety, if not outright subversion, of the premise might have gone a long way. Also, watching episodes back-to-back really emphasizes how much the show fell in love with certain premises and sometimes ran them into the ground. It’s hard to blame Chappelle’s Show for this, because Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, SCTV, and every other sketch comedy show mines familiar territory over and over again. But having four “Real Movies” plus two “Great Hook-Ups” has me anxious for new material. Luckily, the next four episodes are rife with them.
- The show’s casting department deserves props for finding stand-ins for Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in this “Real Movies” sketches. The latter is a dead ringer for Swayze, and the former does a dead-on impression of Reeves. Whoa, indeed.
- Mr. Ed’s estate defending his racist past by claiming his best friend was The Black Stallion is a fantastic punchline to the “Frontline” segment.
- The anthrax joke in the Biggums sketch is another example of how much Chappelle’s Show took hot-button political topics no other show would/could touch at the time and turn them into potent comedy. Plus, the fact that Biggums snorts anthrax, yet somehow lives, is a great example of his apparent indestructibility.
- I’d be curious to hear if this type of breakdown each week would be something people are interested to see continue. I’d ask you to comment below, but you haven’t been shy about expressing your opinions thus far.
- Next week: We visit “The Playa Hater’s Ball,” and the show unveils R. Kelly’s newest music video.