Dave Chappelle’s comedy has made numerous aspects of American race relations and racial stereotypes subject to ridicule in a manner that has both united and divided. On one hand, his name became synonymous with comedy for the younger generations; on the other, his values caused him to question his own comedy, leading him to effectively terminate his career. In the Wake of ‘The Nigger Pixie’: Dave Chappelle and the Politics of Crossover Comedy” by Bambi Haggins demonstrates that Chappelle’s comedic style is the result of numerous elements of comedy in the African American community coming together and that it came about as a result of his experiences. It gives and expands upon the reasons that Chappelle left Chappelle’s Show and presents them in an optimal setting.
Chappelle’s roots are established as guiding him through his comedic career, his desire to share his comedy with the masses without accommodating the tastes of the networks or what they would think would be “palatable” to their audiences. Haggins’ analysis of Chappelle’s comedic style for the duration of Chappelle’s Show explains how Chappelle was able to blend older styles of African American comedy into his unique comedic style by using his sketches to support her claims.
Haggins knows how to blend this mixture artfully into an essay piquing the interest of others on the topic of Chappelle’s career and comedic style. Haggins begins the chapter with a quick explanation of why Chappelle eventually left the show. Chappelle explains that the “loud and long laughter” (233), emanating from one of the white crew members was “the beginning of the end” (233) for him. This depicts the time in his life when he started to think that rather then diluting them, his skits sometimes reinforce these stereotypes.
Something he never intended to do. The biggest thing that separated Chappelle’s show from the rest is his seamless ability to achieve the de facto crossover consistently in his show. His gift at portraying stereotypes and social conflicts while appealing to a wider audience is what led him to the top of sketch comedy. But this soon becomes problematic for him as he struggled with himself to decide what was crossing the line. As his success gave him the ability the push the line even farther, it also reminded him how important it was to not cross the line.
Another big factor that provided Chappelle with the chance he needed to really show everyone what he could do is by taking a risk with Comedy central. The Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan explains, “We went to a place, Comedy Central, that sort of needs us and gave us a lot of freedom…. We didn’t get much money, but that was the trade-off-you get control” (236). This gave Chappelle the ability to reach a wide audience while still having the control of the material that goes into each show, thus promoting his real comedic self and rocketing him to success and fame.
While staying at the top Chappelle constantly was balancing on a delicate line, “Chappelle’s show walked the razor edge of provocative comedic sociopolitical discourse” (237). Haggin’s in depth analysis of both his argument and Chappelle’s descent into racial stereotyping is prevalent through his specific examples of the comedian’s sketches and then providing commentary about the concept as a whole. In his article, the author uses Chappelle’s “Racial Draft”, “Black Bush”, and “Nigger Pixie” as clear cases where racial satire went too far. The author begins with Chappelle’s background and his emergence into the television world.
This is an effective rhetoric strategy because it allows the audience to see Dave Chappelle before the Chappelle’s Show. However, if one reads closely, they can clearly tell that Chappelle had never changed throughout his years of comedy and kept the “openness and fluidity”(236) in his comic persona. Haggins also points out the element that the comedian always had an ability to attract viewers from all areas and speak “for and to Gen X and Gen Y subcultures in both black and white communities” (234). This was especially evident in Chappelle’s Show and added greatly to its popularity.
Finally, the method in which the author used examples by including specific skits in the “Lost Episode” where Dave Chappelle went beyond boundaries to point out the racial stereotypes that are present in everyday life is very effective. Through his fluid diction and terrific explanation of each skit, Haggins is able to “paint a picture” in words for the reader. When reading the article and each sketch that Chappelle acted out, the audience can clearly see that the comedian’s racial satire was humorous, yet lie awfully close to the reinforcement of racial stereotyping.
This is the reason the “Nigger Pixie” sketch example is so significant. By playing a black-faced minstrel, Chappelle only emphasized the idea of harsh racism and the stereotypical black want for fried chicken. The author analyzes how numerous comedic styles from the African American community coalesced on Chappelle’s Show by using specific sketches as supporting evidence. One example, Haggins’ analysis of the “Reparations” sketch (Haggins 240-241), demonstrates that numerous styles blended quite clearly.
Her use of the sketch, which describes the ludicrous amount of economic prosperity that would occur if reparations for slavery were given to the descendents of formerly enslaved African Americans (Haggins 240), outlines how “the ‘white’ media” (Haggins 240) would report such an occurrence, and that while the sketch “[offers] a cringe-worthy embodiment of stereotypes, [it] (somewhat) congenially calls the audience out while also acting as a reminder of the issue of reparations for the legacy of slavery that still informs aspects of the African American experience” (Haggins 241).
Her demonstration of the older styles of African American comedy coming together one one television program was effective. After all of this occurred and Comedy Central aired the shows despite the wished of Chappelle, he found it impossible to continue his relationship with Comedy Central and he left the show.
The argument made throughout the chapter is further solidified in the end when Haggins states, “As long as the assumptions implied by the race-baiting little demons (the Nigger Pixie and his brethren) resonate in the hidden recesses of popular consciousness-not as critique but as confirmation-the road for social satire, regardless of media outlet-will be arduous” (248). To revisit what was discussed earlier, as long as racism exists, “doing racial satire will be problematic” (248).