DATE September 2, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Dave Chappelle discusses his life as a stand-up comic
and his Comedy Central series "Chappelle's Show"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
If you're looking for some laughs this holiday weekend, Dave Chappelle has a
new stand-up comedy special that premieres Saturday night on Showtime. He
also has a regular series on Comedy Central called "Chappelle's Show" that
features stand-up, sketches and music. In Rolling Stone magazine, Chappelle's
humor was described as `the edgiest, most racially charged comedy in America.'
The DVD of the first season is the third-best-selling television DVD of all
time. By the way, parents, some of his humor is pretty adult.
Let's start with an excerpt of one of the most talked-about sketches from
"Chappelle's Show." Charlie Murphy, Eddie's brother, who's a regular on the
show, is hosting an edition of "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories,"
remembering his encounters in the 1980s with funk disco star Rick James. The
sketch was filmed before James' recent death. As you'll hear, this fake
documentary segment includes a cameo appearance by James himself. But it's
Chappelle who plays the 1980s version of James. Here he is.
(Soundbite of "Chappelle's Show")
Mr. DAVE CHAPPELLE: (As Rick James) Drink up. Be merry. Welcome to the
China Club. A-chang a-chong chang. A-chang a-chung chung chang chung.
Mr. CHARLIE MURPHY: Rick's, you know, being Rick.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As James) Come on, baby, show me your (censored). I'm Rick
James. Do something. Mm, mm. I wish I had more hands so I could give those
(censored) four thumbs down. (Laughs)
Mr. MURPHY: I ain't realizing how high he was. Next thing you know, he's
Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As James) Charlie Murphy! What's up, partner? Darkness,
everybody, dark--everyone, darkness is spreading. Hello there, Charlie.
Unidentified Man #1: I'm behind the bar and I'm serving drinks, and Charlie
bends over; I call out to Charlie, `Come here.'
Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As James) Charlie, there's a new joke going around. Have you
heard it? What does the five fingers say to the face?
Mr. MURPHY: What?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: (As James) Slap! All right. I'm Rick James, bitch.
GROSS: I asked Dave Chappelle to tell the story behind this sketch.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Eddie Murphy's brother Charlie was shooting a sketch on our
show, and one of the conversations at lunch was about how he had fought Rick
James on like 10 different occasions, which was like, `What? You gotta tell
us more.' And then he told us the story, and we were like, `OK, this is a
hilarious story. You gotta come tell it on the show. And then obviously, you
know, we'll dramatize it with me playing Rick James.' And then at a certain
point, as we start moving forward, then at the--and at a certain point,
Charlie's like, `You know, I probably could get Rick for this.' So we're
like, `Sure, yeah, get him.' And the rest is history.
GROSS: How--I think you had been planning to do an actual movie, like a Rick
James movie. How does his death affect that?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Oh, I'm not going to do it now. I mean, it was going to be a
comedy. I was hoping to have him in it. At a certain point, he had decided
he didn't want to go that route with it. The two weeks before he died,
perhaps, I spoke with him for the last time, and I think one of his major
concerns about doing the feature was, you know, how his kids would perceive
it. And it was--when I heard him explain it--'cause at first I heard he has
problems with the movie; he doesn't want you to say certain things. And I
was like, `Well, I can't--you know, I'm not going to promise that. That's a
deal breaker.' And when I spoke to him, I completely understood where he was
coming from, you know, 'cause I'm a father. And he was just like, `There's
certain things that I've done in my life that I don't know if I want to see
them glorified or whatever or, you know, lampooned,' just like for the sake of
his kids. It was the impression that I got.
GROSS: Dave Chappelle is my guest, and he has a comedy special coming up
Saturday, September 4th, Labor Day weekend, on Showtime. And, of course, he
has his regular show on Comedy Central.
Now you did some really--I mean, your show is so funny. What was the original
concept when you first sat down to conceive of your weekly program,
"Chappelle's Show"? What did you envision it being?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: The idea was that I wanted to do a variety show that was very
personal, almost as if--you know, like a comedian has a joke book where he'll
write his ideas down--almost as if you could bring somebody's joke book to
life. And I think we were fairly successful at it in the sense that we do
things on the show that are almost nightclub, that are--I don't know--things
that I'm not even used to seeing on television. It becomes whatever it needs
GROSS: Well, it's funny...
Mr. CHAPPELLE: One week it was a game show. One week it was a puppet show.
One week it was half documentary. It can be--you can do anything.
GROSS: Well, you know, what you're talking about, about it being, like, a
comic's notebook--in some of your shows, you actually set up the sketch with
the story behind it, what you were thinking about before coming up with the
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Right.
GROSS: And that's what you did before a sketch called "Racial Draft." And you
explained that, you know, your wife is Asian, you're African-American, and so
you've had these arguments about, like, whether Tiger Woods is black or Asian.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Right. Right.
GROSS: And so you came up with this show called "Racial Draft." And let's
hear the opening of that sketch.
(Soundbite of "Chappelle's Show"; music)
"ROB": Good evening, and welcome to the first and maybe only racial draft
here in New York City. Folks, this is for all the marbles. What happens
here, we'll state the race and standing of these Americans once and for all.
"BILLY": That's right. And the crowd is here to support their races. Well,
Rob, some of the biggest names in sports and in entertainment are on the line,
and I'm excited to see who's going to be drafted by which race. Seated behind
me on the stage there are the various representatives. And believe it or not,
the blacks have actually won the first pick.
"ROB": Wow, this is the first lottery a black person's won in a long time,
"BILLY": Yes, and they'll probably still complain.
"ROB": Man, (censored) you. Well, the black representative is heading to the
microphone now. Why don't we take a listen.
MOS DEF: I'm being the black delegation. Shoot, Tiger Woods.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
"BILLY": Most surprising, Pep. The richest and most dominant athlete in the
world. His father, black; his mother, Thai.
"ROB": Well, it doesn't matter anymore because he is now officially black.
Jay, the Asians have got to be upset.
"JAY": There is no question about that, Robert. But you gotta think about
it. He's been discriminated against in his time. He's had death threats.
And he dates a white woman. Sounds like a black guy to me.
"BILLY": Tiger's taking the stage now. And if you ask me...
"BILLY": ...he's looking blacker already.
"Mr. TIGER WOODS": Uh, I'd like to say a tremendous opportunity for me to
finally be part of a race, have a home. I've been so confused buying
chicken. I love you, Dad!
GROSS: So that's an expert of Dave Chappelle's show.
Dave, can you talk about, like, what actually happened behind the scenes in
writing this sketch and maybe talk a little first about what happened further
into the sketch?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: The idea actually was--a guy named Brian Tucker submitted the
idea of having a racial draft. Finally, races can stop arguing about who was
who and definitively label these people once and for all, which was like, you
know--that's the heavy lifting. That was a brilliant idea. So Neal and
I--Neal's my partner I write the show with--we sat down, and it was like a
wealth of jokes that you could do, because it's the kind of thing--this is a
very race-obsessed culture. You know what I mean? Like, when a guy like Vin
Diesel becomes famous, every--half of the things you hear about him is, `Well,
what race is he?' And he just doesn't say, which I kind of think is classy.
Shooting it was a blast 'cause, you know, we had the Wu Tang Clan, we had Mos
Def playing the black delegate. And that was one of the first things that we
had shot last season, which was kind of like one of those things--`Well, man,
this is going to be a good season.' Kind of set--it set a good tone for the
season that we can kind of go into it.
GROSS: Now you're really funny at doing white people, and I think, like, when
you're white, you don't think of there being, like, a white accent. Do you
know what I mean?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, absolutely.
GROSS: But when I hear you do it, I realized, OK, there's definitely, like, a
white accent. So what do you do when you do white?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: I take the rhythm out of my voice. I try to keep it monotone
and even. But again--all right, see, I do these things, but I'm not
really--it's almost like a--sometimes I'll watch old movies and how they
portray black people, you know, like Stepin Fetchit and all these things. I
remember watching them, and something in the movie made me laugh, and they
were like, `Why are you laughing at this?' And it's not that I'm laughing at
black people as much as I'm laughing at the way black people were perceived,
like this is what they actually thought about black people. It just seems
ridiculous to me. So I think, you know, when I do this, I think--again, it's
not malicious, and it's not necessarily like thinking--it's just a funny
caricature of what, you know, the world looks like through my eyes.
GROSS: Is there a particular person you conjure up when you do a white man?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Not a particular; it's a composite. This is a composite
GROSS: Of who?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: It's funny, man. All right. You know, when I was growing up
in DC in particular, this is what--now this isn't true for many persons, but
there's a lot of black people that I know who really have never had any
personal experience with white people, which is weird to think about in this
day and time, but DC is a predominantly black city and, because of the
economic situation or whatever, they just didn't have any concept of white
people outside of being authority figures: Officer, Your Honor, you know,
it's a teacher or principal, but always some kind of authority figure. So
there's this whole--you know, their experience across the color line normally
happened via television or, you know, something where you're dealing with an
So--I, on the other hand--my parents had split up; my mom was living in DC; my
dad was living in Ohio. I traveled to both places, so I was in the nation's
capital on one hand and I was in the heartland on another. So, you know, I
just--culturally I kind of absorbed a lot. I don't know, man; I got a pretty
good understanding about the culture. I think that all these differences are
just cultural things.
GROSS: My guest is comic Dave Chappelle. More after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Dave Chappelle. His series "Chappelle's Show" is on
Comedy Central. His new stand-up special premieres Saturday night on
You said in one episode of your show that after someone complained that your
show was offensive to black people--and that person, by the way, was
white--you came up with this idea for a game show called "I Know Black
(Soundbite of "Chappelle's Show")
Audience: (In unison) "I Know Black People."
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Welcome to the show "I Know Black People." We take
contestants who claim they know black people and put their knowledge of
African-American culture to the test. The contestant who answers the most
questions, of course, wins our grand prize. Let's bring them out one at a
time now. Our first contestant is a professor of African-American studies and
history at Fordham University, the New York City police officer who's a writer
for such black television shows as "The Chris Rock Show" and "Chappelle's
Show." OK. Our next contestant works in a Korean grocery store; he's a DJ and
claims to have many black...
How can black people rise up and overcome?
Unidentified Woman #1: Um, how can they rise up and overcome? Well, can they
(Soundbite of bell)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is correct.
(Soundbite of applause)
Unidentified Man #2: Reparations.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is acceptable.
Unidentified Man #3: This is a rap lyric?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: No, this--I'm sorry.
Unidentified Man #3: Oh, this is a general question.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: This is the actual question.
Unidentified Man #3: All right. That's a--it was a complex answer there.
(Soundbite of bell)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is correct.
Unidentified Man #4: Staying alive.
(Soundbite of bell)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is correct. That is correct.
Unidentified Man #5: By stopping cutting each other's throats.
(Soundbite of bell)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: That also is correct.
How can black people rise up and overcome?
Unidentified Woman #2: Get out and vote?
(Soundbite of buzzer)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: That is an incorrect answer. I'm sorry.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Well, folks, our...
GROSS: Dave Chappelle, that's such a funny idea for a show. Can you talk a
little bit about what happened in the writing of this sketch, like, what it
was like to put this sketch together?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Originally we were going to do--we were going to write the
material; we were going to write it like an actual sketch. And when we sat
down and started to write it, it was one of these things where it's like,
`This would be better if we got actual people and just quizzed them.' And we
just came up with questions. We just had them...
GROSS: So you actually got real people. You got, like, a white cop...
Mr. CHAPPELLE: All those people were real. We had them get us a police
officer, get us a Korean grocer, get us a black dude. Yeah, everybody--it was
completely authentic. And then all the hosting on this was just like--it was,
like, off the cuff, you know. But the answers were incredible, man, the
things that these people were saying. One of the things--they're going to see
me, so they kind of go for being funny. But all of them were really nervous,
and they were all kind of afraid that I was making fun of them. And then once
we got to shooting, I think everyone just kind of relaxed and kind of unwound
and--I don't know. That's one of my favorite sketches we've done.
GROSS: Now you grew up in different neighborhoods because--I guess this was
because of your parents' divorce. If I understand correctly, you grew up in
Silver Springs, Maryland; Yellow Springs, Ohio, because your father was
teaching at Antioch College, which is located there; and Washington, DC. So
you went to schools in these different places, too?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, the elementary school was Silver Spring, middle school
in Ohio and high school in Washington.
GROSS: Were you almost part of, like, different cultures in those different
places? Were there different ways of, like, dressing and different music that
your friends listened to, depending on which place it was and whether it was
the suburbs or the city or Ohio or Washington?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: I think elementary school was more integrated, 'cause, you
know, people were younger; they mixed freely with black kids, white kids;
everybody was--you know, there was no real racial hang-ups in elementary
school. And people weren't really clothes-conscious, 'cause we were young.
And then by the time I got to the middle school in Ohio, that's when you start
seeing alligators on people's sweater and people started getting into, like,
status symbols and stuff. And that was the first time where I really started
thinking, `Hey, man, I'm poor,' and I was like, `We don't have any money, do
And then when I got to high school, then I started getting the clothes, then I
go to high school and, you know, I was gone during middle school; crack came
out while I was gone. So I saw, like, the before and after picture. I had to
piece the crack epidemic together. Like I remember my first day of high
school and they were like, `All right, look, if you have a pager on in school,
then that is immediate grounds for suspension, because we all know what that
means.' I was in the back like, `I don't know what that means.' And then, of
course, I figured out that--and then I was also trying to figure out how
everyone had all this, like, gold and expensive stuff, and then I was like,
`Oh, OK, everybody's selling drugs.' I remember so many people in the
beginning like my freshman year of high school, they were selling drugs; I
can't even imagine how many people were using them. You know, the crack
epidemic was crazy, man.
And I think a lot of the stuff that the--I did my act just coming from Ohio
and from--and then going straight back to DC during the crack epidemic; I
think that all the inequities were just underlined.
GROSS: So how did you change as you changed environments?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: It's funny, man. When I was in Ohio, I was at first, like, a
real confident period in my life. I started gaining confidence, 'cause for
these kids I was this outsider and I had to make friends. And that was when I
got, like, this huge reputation; everyone was like, `This guy's really funny.'
I remember in middle school, everyone's just like, `This guy Dave is so
hilarious.' Then when I got to high school and the crack epidemic was out,
you know, what it took to be popular there and then, I just wasn't willing to
do, you know.
GROSS: Which was what?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Sell drugs.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: If you didn't have money, you couldn't get the girl you
wanted. You know, it was a crack epidemic. Selling drugs was like a
legitimate job in the high school that I was going to. And all around DC, it
was like, girls like drug dealers 'cause they had money. I wasn't willing to
be there. But it was kind of like that context kind of isolated me initially,
and then when I started doing stand-up, it was like I thrived all over again.
GROSS: So when you started doing stand-up and you were still in high
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Fourteen.
GROSS: ...14--OK--in Washington, what were the jokes about? What was the
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Like--man, the first act--Jesse Jackson was running for
president, so I used to do jokes about that.
GROSS: Like what?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Used to talk about stuff I saw on TV like "Alf" and--but they
all had race in them in one way or another. Obviously Jesse Jackson jokes
gonna have some racialism. "Alf," my whole thing was like the alien comes
three billion miles from space and gets a home with a white family was the
paradox in that joke, which all sounds corny now, but remember I was 14, so it
was like, `Wow,' you know.
What else did I talk about? All kinds of stuff. Like in the very beginning,
I didn't know that comedians had material. Like I thought they just went up
there and just talked spontaneously. So I used to do the same thing, which is
probably better that I started that way, 'cause that in and of itself was a
skill that, you know, a lot of comedians are afraid to abandon their act once
they get a good amount of time; they just want to stick to it.
GROSS: So who were your audiences then?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: All right. In those days in Washington--again, remember, this
is a majority black city--there was no black comedy clubs. And I remember
club owners saying things like, `We only put one--we'll never put more than
one black person on a show because it offends the audience.' I've heard all
GROSS: Oh, gee.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: ...and in Washington, DC. You know, it was pretty exclusive.
There was one point that they actually had a rule that there--`No more cursing
on our stage.' It was like--this is in '88. And one of the comics that was
black--this was pretty funny--he was like--he's like, `Look, man,' he said, `I
curse.' He said, `Black people use profanity because we live a profane
lifestyle.' And then he says something that I can't say on the radio. But
he's basically like, if you see a roach crawling up the wall, you're not going
to be like, `Oh, gee, look at the roach.' He's going to be, `Look at this
mother(censored) roach.' You know, he's just going to go for it--I know
you're going to cut that out. But it was really funny, though. But just the
fact--thinking back on it, the fact that there was all these limitations and
all these weird issues that the club owners had, in one way, maybe prepared me
GROSS: Dave Chappelle. His new comedy special premieres Saturday night on
Showtime. His series "Chappelle's Show" is on Comedy Central. He'll be back
in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with comic Dave Chappelle.
Also, Christian conservative comic Brad Stine talks about performing on the
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with comic Dave Chappelle.
His stand-up comedy special premieres on Showtime Saturday night. His series
"Chappelle's Show" is on Comedy Central. When we left off, he was saying that
the limitations club owners placed on his stand-up act help prepare him for
producers' expectations in broadcast TV.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: You know, before I had this show, I'd done 11 television
pilots, which was very grueling, you know. It's hard to develop TV, man,
especially if you're the youngest guy in the room. And at first I would defer
to these people just because they were older than me and they all had suits
on, and I guess they'd know what they're talking about: `First, Dave, let me
tell you something about TV. People want blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah and
blah-blah-blah, and our research shows blah-blah-blah, blah, blah, blah-blah,
Done that 11 times. You know, and each time it got progressively more
frustrating. You know, I used to have arguments and all kinds of stuff, and
the last straw, I was developing a show for FOX, and they wanted me to change
one of the characters arbitrarily to make the character white, 'cause they
felt like it would make the show--the word they used was, have a more
universal appeal. It's like, `Oh, OK. You're the universe now?' But, it was
like, don't give it anymore universal appeal. So I quit, because at that
point, I was like, `This is impossible. This is an impossible thing to
negotiate. There's no way to'--I mean, I don't know. You just can't make TV
that way. Like, then how do explain "The Cosby Show" working? Or how do you
explain Will Smith's show working? You know, there were so many examples of
successful shows, and these were considered flukes. Like, they were
successful shows with all-black casts, and it was considered a total fluke
because of some pie chart this guy was holding. And that's when I was, like,
`OK, there's no way I can do this.'
GROSS: My guest is Dave Chappelle, and he has a weekly show on Comedy Central
and now a Showtime special coming up on Saturday, Labor Day weekend at 9:00.
I want to ask you another question about having grown up in three different
places, suburban Maryland, suburban Ohio and Washington, DC.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Rural Ohio.
GROSS: Rural Ohio.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Suburban Maryland, rural Ohio and Washington.
GROSS: OK. So that exposes you to different people, different cultures,
different geographic landscapes, different ways of living, and I'm wondering
if that helped give you the ability to kind of stand back and look at people
and see what was kind of funny and ridiculous and absurd about all of us. Do
you know what I mean? 'Cause I feel like you have that gift, of just, like,
looking back and...
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, absolutely.
GROSS: ...standing outside and looking at everyone and saying some pretty
funny things about us all.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, because most of the people that I stereotype, I know
the people that the stereotypes are based on, like personally. I've met
people like that, you know. You know, I mean, I can remember friends of mine
growing up. Like, we used to all play football after school, and, like, four
of us were black, two of us was Vietnamese; there was a Jewish guy from the
Deep South. It was an eclectic group, you know, but we all got along. We
all, you know, were friends. In the household I grew up in, my parents were
somewhat--I don't know how to explain it, but over our mantel place, there was
pictures of Malcolm X, you know. I listened to Dick Gregory records growing
up. I listened to The Last Poets. I mean, you know, there were books all
over the house. We're always reading stuff. So, like, you know, like people
like Frederick Douglass, you know, these guys' pictures were on my walls when
I was growing up.
GROSS: You described your family growing up as the broke Huxtables.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah, we were like broke Huxtables.
GROSS: Your mother was--or is a Unitarian minister?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: She was, yeah. Yeah. I believe she was the first black
woman ordained in the Unitarian Church.
GROSS: And your father was a music professor.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah.
GROSS: What kind of music?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Voice. He used to sing opera and stuff.
GROSS: So your family was really very educated and probably instilled those
values in you. Was there pressure on you to do well in school when what you
really wanted was to be a comic?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: I mean, first of all, I was a horrible student. My
parents--you know, my dad was very philosophical about these kinds of things.
As a matter of fact, when--I'm the first person in my family not to go to
college, like, since slavery. And my grandmother, my mother's mother didn't
like that at all. She at first, because--I mean, I was 17. I'm, like, `I'm
not going to college. I'm going to move to New York and try to make it in
stand-up.' And she kind of flipped out. She was like, `It's a dream of mine.'
This is a heavy guilt trip. She'd go, `It's a dream of mine to see all of my
grandbabies graduate from college before I die.' So why you gotta bring dying
up, man? That's a lot of pressure. But then my dad's whole take on it was,
`Unless you want to do something that requires you go to college, then college
could very well be a waste of your time.'
GROSS: And he was a college professor. So coming from him, that must have
really registered on you.
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yeah. He was an educator. He was an educated man, and I
think my parents ultimately wanted me to be happy. You know, I mean, my
argument was, you know, `Dad, if you're making a teacher's salary. If I can
make a teacher's salary doing stand-up, to me, I'd rather do that than teach.'
And he understood where I was coming from. Like, you know, it's like I didn't
necessarily have to be rich and famous. Obviously I wanted to, but that
wasn't necessarily my aim. I was just really, really, really--to this day, I
really like doing stand-up.
GROSS: Since you started when you were so young, your mother had to--did she
have to, or did she just want to come to the clubs with you? Was that
required as, like, an official chaperone because you were underage?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Originally she had to. Once everyone started to know me,
this was kind of like our routine: we'd meet down at the club. I'd be coming
from school, she'd be coming from work. It was cool, man. It was like a good
way to spend time together. And then at a certain age, like maybe a year into
it, you know, she'd get tired at night. We'd both burn the candle at both
ends, but I'd always want to go, so she'd just let me go. And you know, not
until I'm an adult does she tell me how scary that was for her, you know.
GROSS: In what way?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Man, she'd tell stories like she'd hear gunshots in the
middle of the night, you know. She'd go, `Oh, my God. Is my baby all right?'
I mean, remember, this is DC during the crack epidemic. But I guess in her
mind, it's like of all of the bad things that my child could be doing, he just
wants to tell jokes at these clubs. And it was a controlled environment for
me. It's not like the bartender is going to give me drinks. I'm 14. You
know, everyone kind of looked out for me. It wasn't like--I mean, I saw stuff
going on, but not really. It was more of a--it was really goal-oriented time
I was spending.
GROSS: Now when you were still pretty young, Mel Brooks cast you in his movie
"Robin Hood: Men in Tights."
Mr. CHAPPELLE: Yes.
GROSS: What was it like to work with--how old were you? What was it like to
work with Mel Brooks then?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: I was probably 18 or 19, and I was starstruck. Mel Brooks
was a real warm guy. He makes you feel--he doesn't have any airs on him. You
know what I mean? I get the feeling that he was real unaffected by his
career. He's just another guy that loves comedy. And in certain ways, it was
a kind of mentor relationship in the sense that I got to watch a guy execute a
vision he had. The guy that I respected and the guy that--I don't know. That
was a crazy experience. But the thing I always think about Mel Brooks is, he
was just such a nice man, you know. Like, me and this guy really hit it off
during that movie.
GROSS: Did he give you any good advice?
Mr. CHAPPELLE: I mean, I was learning from him more than--just like, he
would tell these stories, man. He'd tell me about when he saw Richard Pryor
for the first time and writing "Blazing Saddles" and trying to get Richard in
the movie, `and the studio wouldn't let me and blah-blah-blah and
blah-blah-blah.' And I mean, just him telling these stories just did a lot for
my imagination, man, and he kind of inspired me, you know. I mean, for me,
like, even when I started writing, actually, that advice came from Eddie
Murphy. Excuse me. We were doing "Nutty Professor." Eddie Murphy was, like,
`You know, you should really write, because the way you tell jokes,' he says,
`is like you see jokes in pictures,' which is kind of true. It's like, I'm
kind of just explaining these images I have in my mind. And he said, `You
should write, man. You got, like, a writer's mind.' And you know, I think
that's when I started trying to write more, just trying to self-generate. And
thank God, because if I wasn't able to come up with ideas, I wouldn't work
right now. I wouldn't be working right now.
GROSS: Well, Dave Chappelle, thank you so much for talking with us. I really
Mr. CHAPPELLE: All right. No problem. It was good to meet you.
GROSS: Dave Chappelle's new comedy special premieres Saturday night on
Showtime. His series "Chappelle's Show" is on Comedy Central.
Coming up, Christian comic Brad Stine. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Brad Stine discusses his career in the Christian
TERRY GROSS, host:
I'm going to let my next guest, Brad Stine, introduce himself.
(Soundbite from "A Conservative Unleashed")
Mr. BRAD STINE (Christian Comic): Oh, I want to tell you about me. A lot of
people who do not know who I am, there's something about me you should know
right off the bat. I believe in freedom, I believe in freedom of speech. And
so I want to give you the same opportunity that I hear a lot of people try to
tell us all the time when we see something we don't want to see. `Hey, just
turn the channel.' I'm going to give you a little channel-turning chance right
now before we get the ball rolling. About me, you better know it and you
better know it now.
Number one: I am a conservative comedian. Listen to me, a conservative
comedian, one of two known to exist in the Western Hemisphere. Number two: I
am a Christian. I believe that God is real, and I'm proud that that is the
heritage of my country. That's number two.
(Soundbite of audience cheering)
Mr. STINE: And number three: I believe the United States of America is the
greatest country that has ever existed on the face of the Earth. It's worth
fighting for. It's worth dying for, because there's never been a country like
this. It's better than Europe. That's why we left.
(Soundbite of audience cheering)
Mr. STINE: Oh, yeah. I have found my constituency.
GROSS: That's from Brad Stine's latest comedy CD, "A Conservative Unleashed."
Stine used to play the comedy circuit, but now he plays evangelical churches
and other Christian events such as private parties for the staffs of Pat
Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network and Jerry Falwell's church. This
summer, he's toured with the Christian men's group the Promise Keepers. Last
month he was profiled in The New Yorker magazine.
Brad Stine, welcome to FRESH AIR. What would you say separates you from more
Mr. STINE: I'm shorter, I think, than more of them. I'm, like, 5'6", so,
you know, I got the short constituency, which is very rare, I think, in the
comedy field. But, you know, I think what really makes me different, at least
from what people are telling me, is that, number one, I'm a conservative
politically, so I definitely come from a political point of view that rarely
is seen in the entertainment industry. Secondly, I am a Christian. I do
believe in God. I believe Jesus is God, so I have a specific religious belief
and, I would say also, never use a curse word. And also, just--oh, yeah, no,
like, gratuitous sexual references. So it's a very clean show, but yet it
still fits with, you know, the style of mainstream comedy, which is, you know,
sort of sarcastic and satirical and in-your-face and so on and so forth. So
it's kind of an interesting mix, kind of like clean comedy in a dirty package.
GROSS: Yeah, well, you are very in-your-face. Now this summer you've been
touring with the Christian men's group the Promise Keepers.
Mr. STINE: I have. I've worked in a number of events, like with 15,000 men,
so it's exciting, and just to have all that testosterone is just--that's
something you don't normally get in a comedy club. And my comedy style really
just hits well for men, because guys like stuff in your face and pulling no
GROSS: So what goes over best with the Promise Keepers?
Mr. STINE: Well, I mean, you know, they just--the whole idea of what men are
and that we have so few facilities in this country that, you know, just allow
men to be men, you know, and I talk about that. It's like, women--I love
them. I mean, there's no anti-women. Promise Keepers is designed to teach
men to be great husbands and great fathers. That's what it's for. It's to
give them a sense of their purpose on this Earth and their value that they
have to give to culture and society. But you know, I like to joke with them
as men and let them feel like, hey, it's guy's event, you know, and you can go
use the women's rest room; you don't have to put the seat down. I love that.
You know, finally, you know, we can be free from that.
'Cause that's what I've heard my whole life from my wife, `Put the seat down.'
And I asked her why, and she says, `Because if you don't, when I go potty in
the middle of the night, I fall in the toilet.' That's what my wife told me.
I'm thinking, you know, `Every time you go potty, you sit. I sit down half
the time. I'm not nearly as experienced at it as you are, and yet I've
managed to never fall into the toilet. I'm sorry, but if you have to sit down
every time you go potty, and you don't make sure the seat's there, you deserve
to fall in the toilet. That's your punishment for not using your neck.' So
anyways, stuff like that.
GROSS: How come you say `go potty,' which is a word that people use when
they're talking to their three-year-old?
Mr. STINE: Oh, well, you know what? I mean, I guess I just say that
because--you know, and this is the interesting tightrope that I walk, because
I'm working for a group of people who come from oftentimes very conservative
areas, and again, not particularly religiously, I mean, they're not used to
any kind of language, anything. I mean, you know, you gotta understand, if I
go into a comedy club and a guy says, `I'm clean,' that means he only uses the
"F" word once. I mean, literally, that's how they see it. It's a whole
different style of what clean means to a professional comic in a club. But in
a church, clean means you don't use any curse words. You don't use any curse
words. You don't use any gratuitous sexual references. So even though, you
know, most of the men in this audience or most of the people that I perform
for could care less what I say, I've gotten such a reputation of people being
able to bring their kids to these shows, I've got such a reputation for people
being able to bring people who have never been in a nightclub literally in
their entire life--will come and see my show and laugh at it, but they've
never seen contemporary-style comedy. You know to them, comedy is Bob Hope or
Red Skelton or, you know, Carol Burnett or something.
So I actually try to be careful about just simple words like that to be able
to not sort of turn these people off. And as much as somebody like yourself
and I, who've been to theater and know what's out there and what words are and
maybe aren't even offended by them, there are people that are.
GROSS: You know, in one of your routines, you make fun of Christian book
burnings. And you say, `You know, if Hitler did it, maybe you should be
heading in a different direction.'
Mr. STINE: Yeah. Well, I think it's a good rule of thumb.
GROSS: Yes. So what reaction to you get from audiences when you say that?
Mr. STINE: I've actually had most of them laugh. I mean, this is what's so
sad to me. You know, I wish conservatives and liberals just had a way to sort
of interact with each other and talk in a civil way instead of these sort of
shows on TV that seem to have us hating each other, 'cause so many of us are
reasonable. So many Christians, for the most part--99 percent of them laugh
and applaud and will even stand up at--Promise Keepers--will stand up. They
give you standing ovations at that thing, 'cause they didn't want to be
represented by that ridiculous element of calling themselves Christians and
burning books like it's some sort of Fascist regime. It's ridiculous. And so
they appreciate that.
But I also had a guy come up to me and wrote me a little note while I was
signing autographs, and said, `Here, read this later.' And he slunk off. And
whenever a Christian does that, you know he's about to lambast me, but he has
to cowardly walk away. And it always bothers me. And so I read it, and he's,
like, `Yeah, you know, burning books was a good idea, just like in acts when
they burned the witchcraft books.' And I'm just, like, you know, this is the
type of ridiculousness that I have to battle. I mean, not only am I sort of
in mainstream with this very, you know--with a point of view that's not
necessarily embraced by a lot of the people that run the media systems, but
yet, you know, I'm trying to get a foot in the door and just say, `Hey, just
let me have a place at the table and let people, you know, listen to me.' But
then I also battle some of these Christians that, you know, don't want me to
do certain things or say certain things or act a certain way. And I just
don't care anymore. I just said, `I believe that I'm doing what I'm supposed
to do, and I'm just going to go for it.' And if Christians are offended
because they think that, you know, you're not allowed to have a glass of wine,
then that's their problem.
GROSS: Now you were born again when you were nine. It seems to me, that's
before you had a chance to partake of the really big sins, so what did it mean
to be born again at such a young age?
Mr. STINE: That's a good point. Yeah, I was nine years old, and that's the
problem. I mean, I remember seeing, you know, people that would have
wonderful testimonies when they became Christians, you know, and it's like, I
longed for the great testimony.
Mr. STINE: I'd see people say, `Yes, I was addicted to heroin, and the Lord
freed me.' I'd be, like, `Oh, if I was addicted to heroin!' You know, I
wanted to have that. I wanted to be found in the gutter somewhere with, like,
vomit coming out of my mouth and say, `Free me, Jesus!' That's what I wanted
to be. And it never happened. I was nine, you know, so like you said, just
how complex was my world? I was, like, `Yes, I used to have difficulty with
long division, and the Lord freed me.' You know, I just didn't have a great
But you know, that's true. I became a Christian at a very young age. I
really studied, I really read the material, I really tried to understand this,
I really tried to live this life. And then, you know, in my early 20s, I sort
of, like a lot of people that grow up in the church and probably in all, you
know, serious religious commitments, I sort of walked away from it. I had a
moment, a crisis of faith, to be honest, where I said, `Is this real, or am I
just following some tradition?' And I went off and took everything the world
had to offer me and indulged in it and really, you know, tried to discover it.
But again, I felt empty and lost, and I just said, `This is not who I am, and
this is not the way I'm going to commit my life.' And a number of years ago, I
sort of turned back around and decided to be this. And then, like I said,
only a few years later did I really reach this place where I realized, `I've
got to discover who I am and live this life, 'cause life's too short.' And
once I committed to it, here I am.
GROSS: My guest is Christian comic Brad Stine. More after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Christian comic Brad Stine. On his latest CD, "A
Conservative Unleashed," he jokes about the responsibilities God gave Adam and
(Soundbite from "A Conservative Unleashed")
Mr. STINE: Adam had the hardest gig. He had to name all the animals by
himself. Think about that. Can imagine having to name every animal there
ever was and give it a creative name? That would be hard. That's why so many
animal names are stupid. Adam got burnout, gave out all the good names right
off the bat: `You shall be hippopotamus! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.' Big
12-letter, creative names. `Go forth, hippopotamus! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
ha.' Ten hours later: `Cow. Cow, I guess. I'm running out of letters!
Another one? Yak. Yak, yak, yak!' By the time the bugs got in line, he just
named them whatever they were doing. Bzzzzz. `Fly!'
GROSS: Now I gotta ask you this. Your last name is Stine, spelled
Mr. STINE: Yes.
GROSS: Stine is such a Jewish name.
Mr. STINE: Isn't it? I wish that would be--there's two wishes I have in my
Mr. STINE: ...if I could choose. One is, I wish I was left-handed, 'cause I
think that's so cool that people can be left-handed. And two--I wish I was
Jewish or had some Jewish heritage. I just so admire the Jewish people. But
I'm German. I know that.
GROSS: But what if churches are afraid to book you, thinking, `Christian
Mr. STINE: Yeah. Well, you know--and of course, there are Jews that believe
Jesus is messiah, too, so it wouldn't be completely out of the norm. But, you
know, I don't know. I mean, it's spelled weird and it's German. My
forefathers came from Germany, like, in the 1800s. I know that, so I just
always assumed it meant, like, you know, mug.
GROSS: So you never have to, like, explain yourself. Like, `I really am
Mr. STINE: Yeah. You know, sometime I come into a church and they're
saying, `Ben Stine's coming! Ben Stine's coming!' And it's, like, `No, it's
Brad. I'm nobody.' And then they're all disappointed 'cause they want to win
my money. But anyways, so sometimes I do have to explain or they--and I've
had people come up, and I've had Jews, you know, come up and ask, `Are you
Jewish?' or whatever, and it's, like, `I hope so, but I don't think so.'
GROSS: You have a new book, and your book--you conclude your book as the
reporter from The New Yorker is writing his profile of you and following you
around, the profile that was just recently printed. And you book ends with
you describing an incident that happened. This reporter from The New Yorker
is following you around, and after one of your shows, someone comes up and
complains to the reporter, and you say they are not--and they're complaining
about your performance. They didn't like your performance. And you say,
`There are not many chances for a performer to get profiled in such an
esteemed publication as The New Yorker, let alone a Christian performer.
Obviously Satan was aware of this as well and wanted to make sure that when
the opportunity arose, the world would see what kind of people make up this
body called Christ. Obviously division is more important to us than
Mr. STINE: Mm. Isn't that deep?
GROSS: Do you blame Satan for this guy?
Mr. STINE: Oh, I knew it. I knew it was going to be a Satan thing. You
know what? I mean, I do believe in Satan. I mean, I do. I can't believe in
God and not believe that there's an evil one, 'cause I don't believe God
creates evil. You know, in my book, if you've read it, the first chapter is
about not blaming Satan for everything, but I do believe that..
GROSS: Exactly, exactly.
Mr. STINE: Yeah. But for everything, I don't say that he doesn't exist. I
mean, so, yeah, I believe there is a Satanic element, or there is a sense that
there's this evil element that wants to sort of keep this message out. Now,
you know, that will sound fanatical, of course, to people that don't have this
belief system, but, yeah, I look at it like this.
You know, this guy found this reporter. He actually pulled him aside, away
from me and said, `I want to talk to you.' Now this was in Boulder, Colorado,
so these are people that, you know, are pretty liberal. And, you know, he
wanted to say, `You know, we're not like th--he liked my show, actually, but
what he didn't like was, `I don't want to be represented like this. You know,
I'm a liberal, but I'm a Christian, too, and blah-ba-de blah blah.' To me, it
was more about the idea that he would look for a way to undermine something I
was trying to accomplish as opposed to coming to me and just saying, `Hey, you
know, I don't like this,' or `I don't feel comfortable with this,' and
whatever. At least have the guts top face me, you know, and let's talk about
it among family. And he didn't choose to do that, and so I have two choices,
to ignore it or put it in a book, so I put him in a book. That'll show him.
GROSS: The nice thing to do.
Mr. STINE: That's right. I didn't name names.
GROSS: So let me just get it straight. You say in your routine that when
somebody blames Satan for their job, for losing their job, you say, `It's not
Satan's fault you lost your job. Maybe it's your incompetence.'
Mr. STINE: That's right.
GROSS: Right? But...
Mr. STINE: So maybe it was my incompetence that made this guy go up to the...
GROSS: But you think it is Satan's fault that this guy went up to the
Mr. STINE: That's right.
Mr. STINE: It was my incompetent comedy material. That's right. You've
single-handedly destroyed my career. Thank you. Now I know it's Satan,
'cause he's in your place. Yeah, yeah, you know, that's funny. You're right.
I mean, you know, look. You know, this is always going to be the conundrum of
the Christian man, Christian woman, Christian person amongst those who do not
have a like-minded belief system. You know, is there a God? Is there a
spiritual world? Is there things happening outside our understanding that is
sort of influencing life, you know. Are people who don't believe what I
believe ever going to fully come to grasp, you know, what I'm about, what
drives me? Of course not. They're not supposed to. You know, spirituality
is a completely different sense of deriving who you are than the material
So I know there's going to become places where people are not just going to
disagree, but are going to be sort of befuddled. You know, `What are you
talking about? What are you? What does this mean?' But you know what? It
means everything to me. I believe there is a God. I believe that Jesus was
God. And I believe that one day, I'm going to be part of his world, and I'm
going to go there, and I live my life that way. I'm not compromising it. I'm
not changing from it, and I'm never going to walk away from it again. That's
who I am.
In the middle of all that, I'm a comic, and I'm good at it. I'm good, because
God said so. He gave me this gift, and I'm trying to make people laugh. I'm
trying to uplift people. I do have a very specific point of view. I don't
back away from it, but I believe that my comedy is available to everybody.
Irrespective of your politics or religion, I think you'd like it. But
basically, for those who are conservative and are Christian and have never had
a comic champion, I'm trying to fill that role.
GROSS: And if someone doesn't like it, it's Satan's fault?
Mr. STINE: It's all up to Satan, that's right.
GROSS: One last question.
Mr. STINE: He came in and did something.
GROSS: One last question. What's the difference between hecklers at the kind
of regular comedy clubs and hecklers on the Christian circuit?
Mr. STINE: The hecklers in the comedy clubs throw beer bottles and throw up.
The hecklers in the Christian clubs throw their Bible, so that, it's a whole
different thing. You get hit with, like, a King James, which is, like, eight
pounds, trust me, it leaves a mark.
GROSS: Brad Stine, thank you so much.
Mr. STINE: Thank you. I appreciate the time.
GROSS: Brad Stine's latest CD is called "A Conservative Unleashed." His book
is called, "Being a Christian Without Being an Idiot."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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