A Brief Analysis of Dave Chappelle’s ‘Unforgiven’ Video
Comedian Dave Chappelle has been on an adamant crusade to get rid of the Comedy Central show that arguably put him on the map – ‘Chappelle’s Show’ – and his latest work, an 18 minute video titled ‘Unforgiven’, is his latest attempt to set the record straight.
Back in 2005, at the beginning of the production of the third season of the show, Chappelle left set walking away from the show, the contract that bound him to it, and the $50 million that Comedy Central offered him to complete it. He took a trip to Africa which erupted a media circus of various outlets describing him as “crazy”. Why Chappelle walked away from the show and so much money as always been highly speculated, but one thing was for sure – the future of his career seemed incredibly uncertain. Fortunately for comedy, Dave Chappelle doesn’t give up easily – he made an official, illustrious comeback to stand up 2014, and since then, he has managed to grow into on of the best and highest paid comedians doing it today.
Although things fell through with Comedy Central, Chappelle found a new home with the streaming giant Netflix, which to date he has released 5 specials on and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. But in November, Netflix began streaming Chappelle’s Show, much to Dave’s dismay. After privately speaking with the company, only after streaming the show for less than a month, Chappelle was able to convince Netflix to pull the show from streaming. Less then a month later, Chappelle had a talk with streaming service HBO Max who also agreed to pull the show.
So, what exactly is Dave’s endgame here? Does he plan to bury the show, attempting to make it so it never happened? Well, not necessarily. ‘Unforgiven’ gives some insight into what exactly he thinks the fate of Chappelle’s Show should look like, a like a true David and Goliath story come to life, he’s got quite an uphill battle ahead of him.
The Greatest Storyteller of All Time
Within the past few years, Chappelle’s stand up has gotten so much more polished, insightful, existential and deep. But above all he has become something of a master story teller. And it is through that storytelling that he is able to bring audiences around to his way of thinking and perceiving the world. His retelling of the story of Emmett Till from his special ‘Equanimity’ was one of the first times this new talent truly set in for me. Although it was a story I’ve heard plenty of times growing up as a young black kid, it was someone more chilling the way he told it, so much so that it was as if I heard it for the first time.
This bold storytelling comes into play in ‘Unforgiven’. He uses a few personal tales to help justify his overall point, which is that while Comedy Central wasn’t doing anything wrong by making beau coup money from “his” show that was contractually theirs, it doesn’t exactly make it right.
Much like the Emmett Till story, this is a story that we all may have heard time and time again – about the creative person that gets swindled by big money and corporate interests, only to create something monumental, yet not make much money, if any, from it. But hearing Dave tell it, and the way he goes about telling it, makes it incredibly easy to empathize and come to his way of thinking.
A New Perspective
Personally, ever since November when he began attempts to take it down from streaming services, I thought it was a bit extra. I felt that Comedy Central wasn’t doing anything wrong and he DID sign a contract which he in turn walked away from. While unfortunate and as much as I idolize Dave Chappelle, I thought he should just suck it up and move on. While I know that seems insensitive and as a fellow creative person maybe a bit hypocritical, I was going along with the idea that “that’s just the way it is”. We all know that network executives and any giant financial and corporate interests will have the mentality ‘money over everything’, so Chappelle’s story should come as no surprise to anyone. But is it naïve of me to think that just because this is the way it is, that means it could never change?
And this is what I believe Chappelle is really trying to push for – a change in the way creative forces are viewed and treated by the financial and corporate interests that “own” them. Dave Chappelle is easily one of the best in the game right now, and while he says he wants to get paid for Comedy Central’s current usage of Chappelle’s Show, I don’t think he cares per se about the money, but instead for these corporate execs to simply do what is right.
Instead of simply using his platform of power and influence to follow suit and going along with the game and “the way it is” he has set out to change the rules of the game completely. In ‘Unforgiven’ he attempts to rally the people, those of us that still indulge in Chappelle’s Show, and offers us a new way of looking at what we are watching, who is providing it for us, and what the cost was to bring it to us.
As stated earlier, it’s quite a David and Goliath story for him to take on such colossal entities, and it’s punk rock as hell that he’s fighting the industry as a whole. It feels a lot like watching a character in a video game take on the final boss – while Chappelle might get defeated by other networks that refuse to take him serious and continue to make money off his work, or “fenced goods” as he described it, he always seems to revive himself and come back to fight another day. And this, among many other reasons, is why Dave Chappelle will go down in history as one of the greatest comedians of all time.