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Chappelle’s Show Review

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In the US, Dave Chapelle is seen as a successor to Pryor and Myrphy - so why are UK audiences still waiting for Chappelle's Show?

★★★★★

He was offered a $50 million deal for seasons three and four of his sketch show, and during filming, walked away. Some said he went mad (the most far-flung theory adds “from playing too much World Of Warcraft”), but this has proved not to be — he’s just choosy. He’s not the next big thing in American comedy, he is the big thing. So why, to all but the most persistent of British funny-foragers, does the mention of Dave Chappelle’s name raise nothing but a quizzical eyebrow?

Ratings? It’s been a huge hit for Comedy Central, and is re-run almost continuously. Too US-centric? Certainly no more than The West Wing or The Simpsons. Too raunchy? No more than Shameless. That Chappelle’s Show remains unseen in the UK is another great programming mystery of our time, taking the shabby Brit treatment of such masterpiece comedy series as The Larry Sanders Show, Arrested Development and Seinfeld one step further by simply neglecting to pick it up in the first place. The 32 year-old comedian’s not totally invisible over here. You’ll find a couple of stand-up DVDs and the odd movie bit-part — good (The Nutty Professor) and bad (Robin Hood: Men In Tights) — but his crowning achievement is nowhere to be found, so it’s to Region 1 DVD we must turn.

To be honest, Chappelle’s Show is edgy, but not revolutionary — it’s thetried-and-tested sketch show. Liken it to Saturday Night Live: The Best Of Eddie Murphy, except every episode is that good. Chappelle has the advantage of being young and in-touch, but he’s been working long enough (since he was 14) to have mastered comic writing and timing. He successfully walks a fine line, being punchy without offending, a bit like an African-American Peter Kay (although Chappelle chooses the riskier topic of race relations against the likes of Kay’s ‘relatives at weddings’ repertoire). And then there’s his characters.

Ask any fan for a favourite Chappelle creation and they’ll invariably come back with either the friendly neighbourhood crackhead Tyrone Biggums, or his greatest opus to date, Clayton Bigsby: a blind (and black) white supremacist. It’s this character (inspired by his own grandfather, a blind Caucasian raised from a baby by an African-American family) who exemplifies the comedian’s style; a simple loophole in logic exploited to an absurd and hilarious extreme.

Whatever the details of his multi-faceted appeal, the good news is that Dave Chappelle has recently returned to comedy, playing small live shows in the US, with the prospect of him returning to TV looking very good. Maybe British audiences will finally start getting a look-in? At least there’s no danger of him becoming over-exposed — which, these days, is a rare thing...

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