Is Dave Chapelle the greatest comedian of all time?
(Credit: Lester Cohen / Netflix)

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Is Dave Chapelle the greatest comedian of all time?

“I think every group of black guys should have at least one white guy in it.”

I love Kevin Hart and his uncanny ability to crack funny, relatable jokes during his stand-up comedy specials without ever breaking character. For Hart, the greatest of all time is Dave Chapelle. In an interview, the stand-up waxed lyrical about how Chapelle was unparalleled in his comic timing, joke delivery and more skills that he makes look effortless.

“Dave Chapelle is a different type of animal, man,” he commented about his peer, “his comedic timing and delivery is like no other.” He further continued, “His approach to stand-up comedy is so different. I am more of an observation guy. I take my life and talk about it. I use a lot of self-deprecation and involve my kids and talk about me in everyday theatrics.” 

He went on to say, “But Dave Chapelle does the same thing but he takes it so far left and brings it back in ways that you would never think. Like none of his jokes you see coming, none of his punchlines you see coming, and he’s so calm on stage, his demeanour, what he stands for, just the way that he has approached stand-up comedy, in general, is so different from anybody else. You can compare a lot of people, and you can compare styles, you can’t compare anybody to Dave Chapelle”.   

Chapelle rose to prominence on the rip-roaring The Chapelle Show. The programme won a glittering number of awards, including Emmys, Grammys, and even the revered Mark Twain Prize. His jokes are rich in humour, with his wit reeking of irony and satire as he presents a scathing commentary on everything from systemic racism to politics and scandalous celebrity sex scandals. His humour is quite zany, and Chapelle isn’t scared of offending his audience. 

After the show’s run on-air ended, Chapelle went on a prolonged hiatus, which led fans to believe that he is somewhat out of touch. He admitted that stand-up comedy audiences would like him to move on from referencing dated names like O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby and venture into more recent comparisons. 

Chapelle is honest, mature and compelling in equal measure in his sets. Bizarrely, he named Bugs Bunny as his earliest comedic influence. However, he also spoke of Richard Pryor as the greatest influence on his career and his wicked sense of humour. He admired Pryor’s ability to open up to his audiences about absolutely everything. The comedian also credited his late hero’s courage and audacity to have provided strength during his long break and gave him “the courage to just go back on the stage”. 

After the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, Chapelle made an anticipated return on Saturday Night Live and launched a few Netflix shows, most notably Dave Chapelle: Sticks & Stones, where he boldly touched upon controversial topics, namely Michael Jackson, Jussie Smollett, R. Kelly and the LGBTQ+ community. The special received mixed reactions ranging from absolute applause at his racy and provocative humour to people finding it downright offensive. Hart, however, called him “the GOAT’ and said that he had surpassed his mentor Pryor. 

What makes Chapelle’s comedy so different and fresh is the sensibility that accompanies it. It is raw, sincere and grounded in personal experience. He is aware of the pervading situation, namely racism and tries to make light of the situation by adding humour to something that most comics would hide away from. At the same time, he brings out the sheer predicament of his community, shedding light on what surpasses under the garb of present wokeness. 

He jokes about him being the black guy with no experience of being in control of the white people, his hilarity and charm disguising the sheer rage that bubbles within him due to the mistreatment of the blacks in the inherently racist society even now.  

We agree with Hart. His stage presence is enviable and infectious. He owns the stage and manages to engage with the audience in the most organic way possible; his zany humour and perfect comic timing are casual yet artistic and observational. A master of improv, he often juxtaposes the position of people of colour, mainly the black people residing in America, to the other communities, bringing our attention to the country’s socio-political climate. Yes, he is wildly hilarious, but the greatest? Not really. 

After a decade long break, Chapelle came back as the same man, and that is precisely the problem. I wish Chapelle changed a little and jazzed up his act more. I’m afraid I have to disagree with Hart’s comments saying he is greater than Pryor, as the late veteran was an audacious master of story-telling and simply untouchable. 

Chapelle is an amazing storyteller but somehow lacks the sheer charm and confidence as well as the political incorrectness of his inspiration. However, on Netflix, Chapelle is one of the greatest stand-up comedians and has a catalogue of shows streaming.

On his 48th birthday, let us pay tribute to the legend by watching his laugh out loud comedy specials on Netflix.