The Hatchet chatted with Dave Chappelle about his days as a class clown, his career, plans for the future and weed before his GW performance Saturday. Here’s the transcript.
Hatchet: You’re from D.C. right?
Chappelle: Yeah, a little hometown action.
H: When’s the last time you were here, for “Killing Them Softly?”
C: You know what, maybe. No, after that, but it has been almost a year.
H: Where do you hang out when you’re here?
C: Well, I don’t really, I go see my mom, and sometimes I go around the old neighborhood, but I don’t really hang, hang.
H: No hot spots you can tell all the GW kids to check out?
C: I’m not really up on the hot spots, per se. I left D.C. when I was 17, I was going to the arcade.
H: Ever go to Ben’s Chili Bowl?
C: Yeah! Yeah, right by Howard, right?
H: Uh huh.
C: Right next to where I taped my special! Yeah, that’s the best, man.
H: So, what is it like to be Dave Chappelle; what does it feel like?
C: It feels pretty much the same the whole time. You’re tired a lot ’cause you work, it’s a lot of work. But I guess of all the things I could do for money, this is like the best. I mean, I tell jokes.
H: Have you always wanted to do this?
C: Yeah, always.
H: How did you get started?
C: I started it in high school, my freshman year in high school, going to comedy clubs after school. It was like a drag, because when I first started my mom had to go with me. It was wild because, you know, girls would come up after the show and go, “You were incredible;” and mom would be like, “Oh no, he has school in the morning.” It was cool though; she really stuck it out for me in the beginning. Then, by the time I was 16, I was getting paid on the regulars, so I could quit all my little after-school jobs. My mom didn’t have to come with me no more, and I just did my thing, man.
H: What kind of after-school jobs?
C: Like my first job, I used to dress up in this cookie costume, and I would hand out flyers for this place called The Cookie Bake, which no longer exists. It was up on Capitol Hill, like over by Armand’s Pizza, right on Mass Ave. I worked at FAO Schwartz. I worked at a preschool with little kids, that was a little too frustrating for me. Tried to teach kids the alphabet. Kids don’t want to hear that.
H: What were you like as a kid? Were you a class clown?
C: Yeah, I was pretty crazy growing up.
H: Did it ever get you in trouble?
C: In middle school I started getting in trouble, that’s when I started bucking authority, if you will, in the middle school years. Talking back and chewing gum, doing all the stuff you’re not supposed to do. I used to get suspended a lot. Like in the eighth grade I got suspended 23 times. I set a record. Nothing bad; a couple fights, mostly just talking back and acting crazy . Uh-oh, my baby’s crying. What’s wrong son? Ohhhh, right.
H: How old is your baby?
C: He’s 10 months. He’s mad because he wants to sit on my lap, but if you don’t look at him every second he gets pissed off. I think he might be a comedian or something.
H: What was it like when you were starting out?
C: You know it was kind of like it is now, the jokes were not as complicated. A lot of one-liners, but I was talking about the same shit. There were a lot of ’80s references. I was talking about “Alf,” and Jessie Jackson running for president. You know, stuff that was going on back then. But the angle was pretty much the same
H: Have you ever just bombed completely?
C: Yeah, every comedian bombs. I’m sure I’ll do it again someday. It’s just part of the gig. The thing is, as you do it for a while, you don’t really worry about it. I never worry about bombing, even if I am bombing; I just don’t worry about it.
H: What do you do if you feel like you’re losing the crowd, they aren’t responding?
C: I get real self-indulgent. If they’re not going to like me, I might as well say whatever I want.
H: What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever said?
C: Ooh, that’s a tough one. We’re talking about 14 years of wild shit. There’s so much crazy stuff out there. I’ll probably top myself at GW. I may not be funny, but I will make sure you will always remember it.
H: Where do you get your material? Are your stories real?
C: Yeah, they’re all based on some sort of reality. Of course, I embellish it for comedic effect. I’m not the kind of guy that will sit down and try to write about this or that; it all kind of just comes to me.
H: How much of your act is improv versus planned material?
C: It depends on the night. Sometimes when I’ve been traveling, I’ll just do my act; then other times, I just get that feeling, and I stand up there and talk, and its like all improv. Those are my favorite shows. When I’m having fun I usually just go off the cuff. It’s hard when something’s going wrong and you still got to be funny. That’s when you rely on your act a little harder. It won’t be anything from the HBO special, it won’t be like television stuff, I try to mix it up.
H: How does material come into your act?
C: I’m not that methodical. I’m sure if I thought about it, maybe I do have a method, but it’s not something that you really think about it; you just kind of go for it. Throw it out there. Sometimes they like it, sometimes they don’t. Some guys over the years get up there and do the same act, you know. Their entire career they’ll get a good hour and they’ll stick to it. And that’s a drag; I don’t want to be that kind of comic. Other guys like George Carlin; he has 12 different hours on HBO alone. Lord knows how much material he’s written. Of course he’s been doing it for 40 years.
H: Have you ever come face-to-face with someone you make fun of?
C: Yeah, that guy Luke (Luther Campbell), from 2Live Crew. But he didn’t care. Those guys just like the attention. As long as you’re not mean-spirited about it, what’s the big deal? Like, I talked about (former President Bill) Clinton a lot in my special, and a lot of his White House staff was like in the audience. That’s kind of why I did it; I like to bust their balls a little.
H: What’s your favorite project you’ve ever done?
C: That’s a good one. My first HBO special I like, although the experience of doing it was rough. And I loved doing Con Air and Nutty Professor. I had a real good time. Half Baked was cool; I enjoyed the writing part of Half Baked. Actually, shooting it was like crazy, ’cause they had no money! We couldn’t ever do anything. I was like, `It’s a weed movie, you know; go for broke.’
H: Will there be a Half Baked 2?
C: Good question, I’ve been asked about that a lot. And at one point we were going to do it, but Universal kind of balked on it. They’ve been getting a lot of pressure from Washington about the types of movies they release. And then Universal made another weed movie with Method Man when everyone was ready to do a sequel, so they didn’t want to compete with themselves and do two weed movies. So it’s up to the studio whether or not you’ll see a sequel.
H: Would you do one if they were ready?
C: Under the right circumstances, I very well would. It depends, if I thought I could make it as good or better than the first one, I’d do a second one. Otherwise, if it’s the same, it’s not cool.
H: Can you really get a dog high?
C: That’s a good question. I don’t know, do dogs get high? I don’t know, I should try it out.
H: What’s one thing you really want to do, or one person you really want to work with?
C: Shit, Jackie Chan, that guy’s fuckin’ cool. I don’t know, that’s a good question. Hopefully, man, I’ll just be funny for a long time. I don’t want to be that guy that gets old and corny. I just want to be able to move the crowd for awhile.
H: What’s the key to your success; what do you do so well?
C: I kind of keep my ear to the street, I get my hands dirty. A lot of guys get to a point in their career where they don’t want to take chances; they get real wrapped up in protecting their reputation, and I really couldn’t give a shit about a reputation. I feel like you got to take chances in order to make a reputation, to grow as a comic. Otherwise you might as well hang it up and just be that guy that does that one good hour you write. I think that’s been my forte, just putting it out there, for better or for worse.
H: Will you always be a comic or do you think your movie career will talk over?
C: I’ll probably end up doing more movies; it’s just hard to get into the right movie. ‘Cause I’m down there on the list. For me to say no to a script there’s a lot of people that have to say no. Yeah, Martin (Lawrence) said no, Chris Tucker said no, Will Smith said no, Chris Rock said no.
H: Do you feel competition with them?
C: No, I don’t think about it, ’cause it all just kind of works out. You get what you’re supposed to get; I truly believe that. All those guys said no to the Nutty Professor, I did it and it started a career for me. I’ll get my shot, I got to keep plugging away and picking the right spots and it will all happen. It almost makes it better that all of us coexist.
H: You have a new movie coming out, Undercover Brother.
C: Everyone calls it a black Austin Powers. I wouldn’t really say that. But for a lack of anything better to compare it to, I would say that.
H: When does that come out?
C: Next June, so, you have some time on that.
H: Who else is in it?
C: Eddie Griffin stars in it. It’s pretty much an ensemble piece.
H: Who are your favorite people to work with?
C: Oh, tough question. I worked with some good people – Tom Hanks, and (Eddie) Murphy and Nick Cage and John Malkovich. It’s hard to pick who was my favorite, because you can learn so much from each of these people. And I’ve kind of had a charmed career. I’ve never worked with someone I didn’t like, and that’s not a Hollywood thing, its true. I’ve worked with some of the funniest people. It’s hard to say who my favorite is. It’s like when people say what’s your favorite ice cream; I just like ice cream. I’m not going to say what ice cream’s my favorite.
H: Any regrets? Wearing tights in Men in Tights?
C: I don’t know if I regret that, I mean yeah, in the course of a career I regret plenty of shit. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s hard to explain, but I look back at my career and I see a lot of things and say, `Oh, that was a bad move,’ but I wouldn’t change it ’cause I always land on my feet. It leads to something better, or I got some experience from it that I needed to progress. Yeah, I’m not gonna publicly state my regrets, but trust me, they’re in there.
H: What has your success allowed to you do? Stuff you never thought you’d be doing?
C: Yeah, buy a house, I drive my car and I’m like, `Jokes pay for this car, jokes pay for this house.’ I got a chance to meet some incredible people, and I went a lot of places I would never gone if there wasn’t jokes involved. I’ve been real fortunate in my life.
H: What do you credit all that to?
C: Oh, let’s see now I have to get all mushy. God, I think, yeah, God. Its almost like you’re chosen. I mean you work hard and you do what you got to do, but there’s really no rhyme or reason why its you. So you got to just credit something bigger than yourself. I’d hate to be that guy that’s like, `well, you know, it’s all me.’ You do what you got to do, you work hard, you put your time in, but at the end of the day, it’s definitely something bigger than you out there working.
H: Is there one thing you can’t wait to do?
C: Nah, I’m pretty cool. I take it as it comes. I’m not the kind of guy that would ever say I’m going to go skydiving, but then if a guy came up to me and said, `Do you want to go sky diving?’ I’d be like, `sure.’ I just take it as it comes, try to have fun, be cool and it all kind of works out in the end. As long as you’re not an asshole, life will take care of you.
H: What’s your next project?
C: Its looking like I’m going do this King of the Park comedy
H: Are you excited about that?
C: Oh yeah, I’ve been waiting to do this one for awhile, but its like landing a space shuttle; there’s just little windows of opportunity. It has to be in New York in the summertime, so hopefully I can shoot that next summer.
H: Do you think doing movies takes away from your stand-up?
C: Not really. It’s cool ’cause you can be real funny in a movie, it’s just a different way of being funny. And then when you do your stand-up, people are more interested. It’s such a pop-culture orientated public, so if you don’t have a movie out nobody will come no matter how funny you are. They both help each other.
H: Ever think of writing a book or anything?
C: I’d have to be old, old, old.
H: What about a comedy CD?
C: That I might do. I did that show in Carnegie Hall and taped that, but I don’t know if I’m going to release it as a CD or wait and put it out as a special. It’s a pretty good hour. So, either that will come out on CD or HBO. HBO should give you three hours, so when you do a show, you can go out on the road to support it. So I did an hour on TV, but I saved the better hour for the live audience, and I use the TV as bait to get them in there. Then I try to blow their minds.
H: Anything else you want to say?
C: Just a big shout out to everyone at GW. And, you know, thanks for letting me come and entertain you guys. Hopefully it will be good. If its not good, don’t be pissed, I’m just gonna go for broke and see what happens.