Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” A quote that is the embodiment of what comedians do in an, of course, humorous and entertaining way. Comedians past, such as Richard Pryor and Red Fox, have perfected this craft, but none today are doing it like Dave Chappelle. He has taken truths of political correctness, social psychology, politics, media, etc., and turned them into thought-provoking topics in joke form. I would even argue that he could be considered the greatest and most brilliant comic living today.
It comes as no surprise that Dave Chappelle is an honoree of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Award this year as he is debatably this century’s funniest comic. The ceremony included a variety of celebs that included Erykah Badu, Yasiin bey (Mos Def), Michael Che, Common, Morgan Freeman, Tiffany Haddish, John Legend, Q-Tip, Kenan Thompson, Chance the Rapper, Chris Tucker, Grant Hill, Tamia Hill and Marlon Wayans. All came with stories about the honored guest who always provides memorable moments.
The Duke Ellington School Band opened the evening with a performance of the Prince song “1999,” the song that Dave Chappelle can be heard singing in his Netflix stand up, Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones. Chappelle also played the iconic role of Prince in a story by the late Charlie Murphy. They had the whole place rocking as Morgan Freeman’s voice echoed the Kennedy Center introducing the evening festivities. Morgan Freeman served as the announcer the whole night.
Every story told from the perspective of each featured guest in their experience with Chapelle had one thing in common, Dave Chappelle made sure to make every moment memorable and full of laughter. Tiffany Haddish came out in a green jumpsuit with her last name on the breast of it, mimicking the same jumpsuit that Dave Chapelle wore during his shows and even sung “1999” in Chappelle fashion.
“The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everybody is watching.” – Dave Chappelle
A montage of clips played featuring Dave Chappelle from his movies to his stand up, some that I recalled being so hilarious that I couldn’t breathe. A moment that revealed to be unscripted was the adlib of Dave Chappelle’s character, Clayton Bigbsy, the white supremacist. Then Kenan Thompson and Michael Che both brought jokes about the comedic legend while Common, John Legend, Erykah Badu performed hits from their collections. They were all important as Dave Chappelle had a deep connection with the group, Soulquarians, he even had them all perform at his Dave Chappelle Block Party that he filmed.
Q-Tip came out later in the night to discuss Dave Chappelle’s importance to the music community as he was known to incoperate hip-hop/soul acts into his work from the Chappelle Show to his comedy tours. Q-tip then brought out Yasmiin Bey to re-create the hilarious moment when he and Dave Chappelle tried to invite themselves in the White House.
The night ended in Dave Chappelle fashion with a cigarette in hand and a bunch of hilarious jokes – including one where he mentioned having ‘leverage’ to smoke in the Kennedy Center. He thanked all who have supported him from family to friends and pointed to the woman responsible for existance, his mom.
He even spoke about how at times comics sometimes don’t see eye to eye, in some cases he found a comic to be racist and even bought them drinks to talk about it. Chappelle mentioned that there’s a protected first amendment but there’s also a second amendment in case the first don’t work out.
Chappelle expalined how his mother called him a griot from African tribes. Griots were story tellers that were in charge of keeping the oral tradition and his mother made sure that she filled him with a lot of history, which he then later turned into deliverable entertainment. This is what makes Chappelle an amazing talent, being able to provide jokes that are informative and thought provoking.
He also spoke about the times his mother would work all day, then go watch him perform stand up, at times falling asleep from exhaustion, but she wanted to show support for the up and coming comic.
As Chapelle ended his speech, or, as I like to call, an improv short set, he brought out Yasiin Bey and Thundercat to perform “Umi Says”. This award ceremony is another moment that can be cataloged in the memories of everyone as it celebrated the comic icon, who has many more years left of providing laughter and much needed comedy.
Previous recipients of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize are Richard Pryor (1998), Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009; rescinded in 2018), Tina Fey (2010), Will Ferrell (2011), Ellen DeGeneres (2012), Carol Burnett (2013), Jay Leno (2014), Eddie Murphy (2015), Bill Murray (2016), David Letterman (2017), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2018).
The celebration will be televised on January 7, 2020 on PBS.