Neal Brennan on Dave Chappelle | 2019 Mark Twain Prize


Hi Dave. Honestly I don’t know how this
night came to be, Dave doesn’t tend to like formal events. Normally he dresses
like a window washer. [Laughter] I can only imagine his wife Elaine said
to him, “Babe, how could I get you to stop smoking for two hours,” and Dave assuming
it would never happen was like, “You’d have to get John Stewart, Sarah Silverman,
Neal, Q-Tip, Tiffany Haddish, Lorne Michaels, John Legend, Bradley Cooper and
say, Morgan Freeman to fly to DC and honor my talent,” Elaine
said, “Great, October 27th,” and Dave was like, “****!” Dave gave me a career.
We met in 1992 at a comedy club in New York City. We wrote a few jokes together
over the years, but I’d always hope we could do something bigger. Then in 1997
Dave calls me and goes, “Hey, if Universal reaches out to you, tell them we’re
writing a weed movie together.” and I was like, “What weed movie?” and Dave
said, “Don’t worry about it.” Next thing I know, someone from Universal
calls me and asked, “Are you writing a weed movie with Dave Chappelle?” and I was
like, “Yes,” and they go, “When can you pitch it to us?” and I was like, “In 30 days time.” [Laughter] So we had a month to figure the pitch
out and finally on day 29 I called Dave and I’m like, “Dude we got to work this
weed movie out,” and he goes, “What weed movie?” [Laughter] Anyhow, the day before the pitch, we
outline Half Baked. It took the full day, about 16 hours, and that attention to
detail really showed up on screen. Half Baked opened against Good Will Hunting, Wag the Dog, As
Good As It Gets, and, oh yeah, Titanic. [Laughter] It was a critical and commercial flop
and quite frankly isn’t very good. A couple years later, after the stink wore
off both, professionally and personally Dave and I were on the phone again, which
was a thing people used to do, and he says to me, “Hey man, we should do a TV
show like Playboy After Dark.” Now, if you remember what Playboy After Dark was, get
your affairs in order because you’re on death’s door. If you don’t remember
Playboy After Dark, it was a super laid-back TV show in the 1970s hosted by
Hugh Hefner who was a magazine publisher and mild sex trafficker. Imagine Jeffrey
Epstein with a grotto. Anyway, Dave and I figured out a rough
format for what would come to be Chappelle Show. Went around pitching to a
few networks, HBO didn’t go great. The woman actually said to Dave and I quote,
“Why do we need you when we have Chris Rock?” See, back then there could only be one
popular black comedian at a time, unlike today when there can be three. A few
minutes later we pitched to Comedy Central and they bought it.
We made the pilot for Chappelle Show we got picked up to series, and the show
went really well, like absurdly well, like so well you-got-to-go-to-Africa well. when we started the show I knew Dave was the funniest person
I’ve ever met, by the end of the show I knew Dave was one of the funniest people
who’d ever lived. Writing and directing Dave sometimes was as simple as me
standing on set with my jaw hanging open like, “Cut?” The thing that I love about
Chappelle show is that allowed Dave to be his entire self to, express his
intellect, his anger, his morality, his silliness, his hypocrisy, his sadness, his
blazing talent. Chappelle Show was a rare thing. It was a fully faceted document of
a human being living in United States of America while having the surreal
experience of being born with black skin. So you know, Playboy After Dark. Also the
show was personal. See, I always felt like Dave blamed me for the failure of
Half Baked, so one day we were shooting a sketch where Dave quit the show because
he got Oprah pregnant, and and we’re doing a scene where he’s going
like rampaging through the offices and he gets to me and he dumps trash over my
head, and here’s why I suspect he blamed me for Half Baked.
As he dumped the trash over my head, he said, “This is for Half Baked.” Alright, as you can see he claims that
I actually wrote that line and told him to say it, which is the only time this
entire evening that I’ll be receiving any credit for Chappelle show

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