Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Dave Chappelle’s “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central is a slaphappy sketch-comedy/variety show that manages to be “racy” and “edgy” (whatever that means, anymore) without ever losing the easy, just-folks sensibilities of vaudeville. The jokes are loud, broad, and obvious, but the laughs just keep coming, even when a bit’s premise, if there is one, has been maxed out. Almost every skit has race and racism in its subtext (if not its title), but the show’s surest attraction is its star’s spot-on impersonations of notorious African-American celebrities. In recent episodes, Chappelle—a former standup comic whose routine was less impressions and more “Ya ever notice how black folks and white folks are different and shit?”—transforms himself, Rich Littlesquely, into an irritable, foul-mouthed Samuel L. Jackson hawking Samuel Adams-like brew (“Mmm-mmm, bitch!”), a dangerous, delirious Rick James partying Rick James-style in the coked-up 80s (“I’m Rick James, bitch!”), a gosh-darn-it Tiger Woods at an ethnic draft (“Fashnizzle!”), and an extra-creepy Prince shooting hoops in full sequins-and-ruffles regalia (“Would you like some pancakes?”).

I was invited to watch the actor rehearse. His creative jam sessions are intense. In a span of five minutes, he’ll try on two dozen characterizations, as if flipping TV channels. Each persona is instantly recognizable: precise, extreme, and funny. When he’s done, you’re almost stumped to think of a black personality, past or present, that’s managed to escape the comic’s savage mockery. Following is a transcript of just some of the many grand impostures that rest in Mr. Chappelle’s bag of tricks:

Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“I have a dream, bitch!”

Malcolm X:
“By any means necessary, bitch!”

Bill Cosby:
“Flibbity flabbity flizzim flazzem, bitch!”

George Washington Carver:
“Peanuts! Peanuts peanuts peanuts! Bitch!”

Nipsey Russell:
“Nipsey’s the kitsch
That’ll scratch your itch
I may sleep in an irrigation ditch
But I fart with philharmonic pitch!

J. J. Walker:

Rosie Greer:

Duke Ellington:

Slappy White:

El DeBarge:

Langston Hughes:
“I stay cool, and dig all jive,
That’s the way I stay alive. Bitch.”

Kofi Annan:

Jean-Michel Basquiat:

Dick Gregory:

Clarence Carter:

Mookie Wilson:

Humpty Hump:

Richard Roundtree:

The guy who played “Mac” on “Night Court”:

Savion Glover:


Marvin Gaye:


Theo’s freind Cockroach:

Lil’ John:

Reginald VelJohnson:

Dave Chappelle:
“Watch ‘Chappelle’s Show,’ bitch! Bitch!”

Al Jolson:

1. The kung-fu-fightin’ shogun masterfully portrayed by Julius J. Carry III in the 1985 film, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.

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