When Dave Chappelle decided to go AWOL from his Comedy Central show Chappelle's Show, speculation was rampant that he was suffering a nervous breakdown or had a drug problem. Now, in an interview in Esquire magazine, the comic talks about what he was thinking at the time.
Chappelle says he left the show because he felt uncomfortable that his bosses at cable network Comedy Central were white.
"The bottom line was, white people own everything," Chappelle said, "and where can a black person go and be himself or say something that's familiar to him and not have to explain or apologize?"
Chappelle told the magazine he also felt like he was losing creative control over his output.
"I felt like I was really pressured to settle for something that I didn't necessarily feel like I wanted," the comedian said.
So Chappelle turned his back on the show, potentially damaging his career.
After the season one DVD set of Chappelle's Show set sales records in 2004, Comedy Central signed him to a $50 million dollar deal. Season two was released in May of 2005 and became the biggest-selling TV show on DVD of all time. Soon after, Chappelle began to feel pressure.
Chappelle disappeared from the set of his show shortly after filming on the third season had commenced. The comedian was missing for several days before turning up in South Africa.
Comedy Central execs were amenable to continuing the show, saying, "Dave is a comedic genius whose work we truly value, and the door is always open to him."
Chappelle wanted none of it. After lying low for a while, he returned to his stand-up comedy roots and began appearing at clubs across the country.
"I wasn't crazy but it is incredibly stressful," Chappelle said when he appeared on Oprah in February. "I would go to work on the show and I felt awful every day, that's not the way it was," he said. "I felt like some kind of prostitute or something."
The slowed momentum hasn't hurt Chappelle. His documentary, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, was released in theaters last month to critical accolades and good box office.