I’ve only experienced comedy nirvana — when your entire body is consumed by the humor of what just occurred and the thought of what’s going to happen next — one time. It was during season two of The Chappelle Show. I’d just finished watching Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Story about Prince, and it had me in hysterics. If you recall, this skit aired a week after the now-iconic Rick James bit, which produced a similar reaction. So not only was I completely beside myself, I was devoured by anticipation, thinking about how The Chappelle Show could possibly top this next week.
I don’t remember what happened on the next week of the show. Which is telling, I guess. Still, the memory of the awesomeness of those two seasons of The Chappelle Show remains, which is why I get why so many were so disappointed when Dave Chappelle walked away from the show. And why, with his recent talk show and stand-up appearances, so many are clamoring for it to come back.
But not me.
The news of the upcoming Lifetime Aaliyah biopic — and the casting of Zendaya Coleman — stirred another round of conversation about the deceased starlet, much of it focused on her status (the Haughton family apparently thinks she’s too big for a Lifetime bio) and how famous she’d be today if she hadn’t died. And I get this as well. I get the urge to idealize a person’s memory, especially someone with such a promising future. But at the risk of sounding blasphemous, we have no idea if Aaliyah trajectory would have continued. No idea if her subsequent albums and movies would have flopped. No idea if she would have faded into obscurity.
This idea might be a difficult one for Aaliyah fans to grasp, but let me say this. You who was an even bigger star than she was in 1999? Who sold millions of records — including two platinum albums in one year — starred in multiple movies, appeared on multiple magazine covers, and might have been the hottest Black artist alive at that time? DMX. He’s a punchline now. An an episode of Law and Order SVU. But let’s say he dies in a car accident in 2000. How different would the cultural conversation about him today be? And his place in our cultural zeitgeist?
Perhaps the short-lived Chappelle Show wouldn’t DMX-ed and gotten stale and/or irrelevant. Maybe it would have been as funny in 2014 as it was in 2004. But the type of creative energy and kineticism that makes a sketch comedy show great — especially one that depends on one person as much as the Chappelle Show did — is rarely sustainable. Who remembers the last couple seasons of In Living Color? Or Mad TV?
Also, considering our 24-hour outrage cycle, would some of Chappelle’s bits even fly today? Would the time and energy he’d have to devote to apologizing and responding to thinkpieces take away from his creative process? Would the first Change.org petition about one of his sketches convince Comedy Central to give him less leeway?
Of course, the fan in me wishes The Chappelle Show would have stayed in on the air. I would have loved to see his take on everything from the Malice in the Palace to the Obama administration. But I also (unfairly) would have expected him to build on my comedy nirvana. And if he failed, maybe I’d remember the show less fondly than I do now. I don’t know. But I do know that sometimes the best thing for a person’s legacy is to not have much of a legacy to remember. /search/destruction+of+the+patriarchy
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