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Dave Chappelle Faces Bob Hope's Demons

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 9, 2006

''Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes'' begins tonight (and will be on DVD on July 25) as Comedy Central harvests the remains of its aborted megabuck deal with Dave Chappelle.

The comedian was one of Comedy Central's biggest stars when he made the deal, only to drop out while the show was in production. And you can see exactly why in tonight's telecast (at 9 p.m.) as a couple of sketches show Dave dealing with the idea of being really famous and really rich.

The sketches in toto are only sporadically funny, and the show is padded with introductions and jokes by Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings. But I did laugh hard at times, especially in a bit where Dave decides to use his new fortune to get revenge on some people from his past. And I thought a lot about Bob Hope while watching.

Like Chappelle, Bob Hope made his bones as an outsider, as a mocker of convention. There were some differences -- Hope often played coward and the sneak, while Chappelle is more directly confrontational -- but they both often came back to the idea of hey, I'm just saying what a lot of people in the audience are thinking -- even if they're too nice to say it.

In both cases, they also received considerable financial rewards for their efforts. But money changed things. It was much more difficult to accept Hope as an outsider when you saw him playing golf with presidents or read about his fortune. And while Hope worked long and hard into his eighties, he did not do so as inventively as he had when he was younger; the jokes were more automatic, the delivery closer to phoning it in.

Based on tonight's sketches, Chappelle found himself in a tough spot. He wasn't some outside guy anymore. He was rich, he knew it and, even more importantly, his audience knew it. So he had to face that issue in his comedy. But once he had done that, what next? Would he be willing to do material that didn't work? Would he accept that he could phone it in and still collect a big check? He may not have looked specifically at Bob's arc, but he surely anticipated the consequences. And he took a different road -- one that got him out of town.

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