I saw a post on Facebook the other day that lumped Chappelle Show, Saturday Night Live, and MADtv all in the same pile of late of hilarity. At first, I was with it, ready to join in the festivities, reminiscing on my favorite moments and debating about the funniest characters.
I was all set to go into my Tyrone Biggums worship, complete with anecdotes about how his Fear Factor episode could only be topped by the unexpected skit with Wayne Brady. For what it’s worth, I entered the thread assuming it’d be overrun with loose-cannoned Chappelle fanatics blindly praising their exaulted, sporadic king. And yes, plenty of those people were there. Chappelle’s Show was doted on and sucked off by 100s of commentors for the great things it had achieved in such a short burst of energy.
Then I noticed the comparisons begin to trickle in.
I saw Saturday Night Live float by, and while Dave’s show had a knack for pliable, transparent truth-telling, it’s no match for the godzillian amount of social commentary skits that SNL is responsible for. Chappelle’s Show crossed the line on every episode in some way, shape, or form (most visible in the frequent use of the word “nigga,” which was groundbreaking), but that line was molded from skits like The Ambiguously Gay Duo or Eddie Murphy going out in public in Whiteface to expose how White people treat each other when the world isnt looking. In fact, SNL’s sheer volume of controversial characters alone topples any other skit show in history, if only for the fact that its been on television for 40 years. Not to mention the dozens of superstar alma mater that eclipsed the show itself. Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd, etc.
The foothold that SNL never really had on Urban America was exposed and negotiated after a relatively unknown comic named Damon Wayans was fired from Saturday Night Live for not playing by their rules. Rumor has it that he basically freestyled an entire skit and Lorne Michaels wasn’t happy about it. Some years later SNL’s first challenger, In Living Color emerged, helmed by a family of talented African American performers: The Wayans.
Keenan Ivory and Damon Wayans led the show and did what SNL tried to do since its Eddie Murphy days, and that was grab the Black audience. Almost overnight, the In Living Color became as important as The Cosby Show, and its socially conscious messages were charged up by the show’s genuine, direct connection with the Hip Hop culture. That’s the reason SNL never received a clear, concise head nod from Urban America; it never sold out to Hip Hop.
This made it easy for ILC to launch its own brand of humor and create a universe of its on stars as well. Among those stars is Jim Carrey, one of the most recognizable humans on earth, and Jamie Foxx. Had Chappelle stayed on air for a couple more years I believe it would have spewed a new set of stars into the Hollywood heavens, but alas, it was cut down in its prime like Caine in Menace To Society.
MADtv was an akward, fill-in-the-blanks show, in my opinion. For all the great talent, which it was quietly high-powered in every season, the show felt forced and unpolished. And unlike SNL or ILC, MADtv was about shock value. Times had changed from the 80s and early 90s. Political incorrectness was now embraced in Hollywood. That meant MADtv had access to a wider variety of culturally insensitive ammunition, and they let the bigotry, race, and gay jokes fly every Saturday night. MAD catered to a more immature viewer, which may be why I didn’t have a lot of friends that watched it yet it was immensely popular. To deny the show its niche in variety show history would be absurd. MADtv gave us Michael McDonald, Aries Spears, Key and Peele, Nicole Sullivan, Artie Lange, and ton of other stars. But its lack of social commentary and seemingly purposeful exclusion of any sort of conscience left much to be desired. There was never any message delivery or point of clarity. Literally; after I’d watch it felt like I didn’t have enough. Like something was missing.
Which brings us back to the original point of the post. People were comparing Chappelle’s Show to its predecessors, and rightfully so, because Dave filled the urban comedic void that appeared when ILC went off the air, further expanding on the innovative precedent that it set.
His use of in-your face-commentary, colorful language, and anti-White sentiment made him a mouthpiece for all ages and colors. Dave was our go-to guy when we needed an explanation on why White people did what they did. Simultaneously, he was also the expert in explaining to White people how awesome Black people truly are. This is perhaps the main reason his show is missed so much. Dave spoke for everyone, to everyone, and about everyone in a variety of ways and I believe it’s unfair to stack him against shows that had more star power and longevity.
Chappelle’s Show will always mentioned, until something newer and greater takes its place. And while it can’t compare to the monolith achievements of its predecessors for reasons beyond its control, Chappelle’s Show will aways be the people’s choice.
SNL > In Living Color > MADtv > Chappelle’s Show
Next up, Chappelle’s Show versus Key and Peele? Stay tuned…