What? Yeah, I know the title sounds like click bait but I assure you it’s not. (well maybe a little.)
This isn’t necessarily an easy topic to tackle and I will do as much as my perspective and insight will allow for. I’ve been wanting to write about Chappelle for awhile and the fact that he is one of my favorite comedians helps but watch out for my bias.
As many of you may already know in 2004 Chappelle walked off stage during stand-up in Sacramento, CA (hometown wassup) and it was then that he fully realized he had lost his audience.
“You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you’re not smart enough to get what I’m doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.” – Dave Chappelle
OK, you’re probably wondering if this post will start to make any sense or maybe you’re thinking I’m just going to chronicle Chappelle’s life post-2004. The second part sounds tempting but I digress.
So here’s the skinny. Chappelle’s satirical sketches on racism were lost to his viewers. His commentary on racial stereotypes, politics and pop culture were nothing short of the inner workings of a comedic genius. As soon as he left for South Africa the media went ballistic and began buzzing for answers. They speculated drug use or mental illness but they didn’t stop to consider that maybe just maybe his ethical and personal concerns held the truth.
Here’s the thing. I am not in the position to make any commentary on racism, what it feels like to be oppressed or stereotyped and as much as I can respect Illmatic by Nas I will never understand what it was like growing up in the Queensbridge Houses. I have no experience or real insight. What I do have is the ability to listen. (Go listen to the Black Panther soundtrack, it’s basically a new Kendrick album)
With that, all said I will elaborate on Dave Chappelle and depression (finally!) Clinical depression is a very real thing and although there is a lot of truth to comedians being one of the most depressed groups, I think Chappelle was quite literally pushed to the edge. Honestly, the reason Chappelle works as an example is that not only was his hard work misunderstood but practically the entire world misunderstood him. He had no credibility. People called him ‘crazy’ and for years we all speculated why he was “seven years late to work,” as he jokingly put it.
First off he couldn’t have been more clear as to why he left but more importantly our environment plays such a huge role in depression (I know give me a medal) combine that with being a black man and you’ve got yourself a tonic for dangerously low serotonin levels. I’m serious though. Chappelle’s story is very important because it shows how institutionalized racism/oppression rapidly turns into internalized depression.
I think oftentimes in the mental health community we are too quick to overlook the different faces of depression. Chappelle may not have clinical depression (don’t quote me on that) but he sure as hell wasn’t/isn’t experiencing heaven on earth. This type of depression is something he carries with him because of society. The heaviness weighed him down so much that he had to walk off stage.
I only know what it is like to be Bipolar. I have an illness that is largely due to the fact that some chemicals in my brain don’t produce enough or at times produce too much. There are so many varying levels of mental illness and there are so many varying levels of mental health. We shouldn’t write off any of them. Instead, we should pay closer attention. Because in my opinion, Chappelle deserves as much support (if not more… no definitely more) and compassion as this mediocre blogger.
ps. go watch his last Netflix special, Equanimity, and The Bird Revelation, and read the book PIMP by Iceberg Slim.