Idris Elba once said he used to sell weed at the New York comedy club Carolines. That can’t be true, right?
Oh, okay. So he used to work at Carolines. During that era of my life, there’s a high possibility that I bought reefer from Idris. Fast-forward to when I was doing Chappelle’s Show. Idris would come to the set sometimes. Not the set where we’d be filming sketches, but the set when we did the live portion of the show and we showed the audience sketches. It used to be a real hot ticket in New York. There’s a lot of women who used to work on the show…all very professional, with the single exception when Idris would come around. It doesn’t matter how big a star would be on the show, when he came around, women would just lose their goddamn minds.
On Chappelle’s Show, you came into contact with a lot of guys who later became famous. Like Kanye. One of his first TV performances was on Chappelle’s Show?
Yeah! And no one was more surprised than me when he did the surprise performance during my Radio City show. It was weird. You know what he said after the fact, which I thought was funny? He said, “Why wasn’t I on the show in the first place? Like, why wasn’t I booked?” So I don’t know what happened via the machinery. It also could be that Kanye’s like a girl that’s so pretty, nobody asks her to the dance. You know what I mean? I knew the day before that he was coming to see the show. Then, as I was walking onstage, right before I went on, Kanye was there and was like, “Yo, can I rock with y’all?” And I thought he meant in general—like, “Yeah, man, always! We all cool for life! Blah blah blah.” Talking all that shit. And then afterwards, when I say good night, I looked up. Kanye is actually onstage, standing there with a microphone in his hand. I was like, “This is nuts.”
He wasn’t the only special guest at Radio City….
Busta Rhymes was onstage. He was like, “You know, I’ve wanted to play here my whole life. I’ve never heard my music with an orchestra before.” My mother started crying. I got offstage, she goes, “I really like that Busta Rhymes.” You know, she’s 76. It was just funny to hear her say that.
In a GQ interview earlier this year, Kanye compared being a celebrity—the invasion of privacy, dealing with paparazzi—to the civil rights struggle.
Well, okay now, I don’t know about that. But I do see a common denominator in the sense that the issue of privacy in general is everyone’s issue. And his version of that is very extreme. I’m a celebrity in some people’s eyes, but not to the extent he is. I saw on Yahoo that his wife got tackled in Paris. Like, just crazy shit. I think that he’s right in the sense that scrutiny in and of itself is oppressive. If someone sits there and stares at you while you eat, you won’t even eat the way you normally do, because it’ll make you so uncomfortable. If I look at my dog when he’s eating, he will look at me like, “Dave, I will bite you. What are you looking at? I’m trying to eat.” It’s something that dehumanizes a person, being on display like that. So is it like the civil rights movement? Not quite. The metrics are a little wrong to make that comparison. But it is a civil rights issue, in a sense. Because how is he supposed to live his life? It’s like someone putting their ear to your butt and being like, “Ew, you farted!” Stop listening to my asshole!
I know this is the exact opposite of more privacy, but what would the world have to do for you to get active on Twitter or Instagram? Because that’d be hilarious.
I have a pretty dope selfie gallery.*
Do you really?
Kanye, Kim, Jay and Beyoncé. Jessica Alba. There’s a great picture from Radio City of me, Chris Rock, and Aziz. Selfies are my shit. I love taking selfies…. Rob Ford.
Holy shit. Rob Ford?
Seriously, you can Google it. I was in Toronto for a few shows, and they told me I couldn’t smoke onstage. And I was like, “Well, can’t you just waive the rule tonight?” And they’re like, “It’s a citywide ordinance.” So I got up the next morning and went to the mayor’s office. This is before all that shit about him came out.
What happened? You actually met him?
I was like, “Is the mayor in? Could you tell him Dave Chappelle is here to see him?” He was in a meeting. I said, “I’ll wait for a few minutes.” So I just walked around his office. The walls were lined with all these disparaging political cartoons. And I asked somebody, “What is this?” They’re like, “He thinks that motivates him.” I thought that was an interesting character nuance. I had never seen him before, but he looked like Chris Farley in the pictures. He walked in and was like, “What can I do for you?” And I told him, “These ordinances exist in the United States, but they’re often waived in contexts of performance, because it’s an integral part of what I do.” He replied, “That’s it?” “That’s it,” I said. Then he told me, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. The laws of Toronto are the same for everybody. We appreciate you coming, we’re glad you’re here, but we can’t change the law because it disagrees with you.” He really gave me this whole speech. I should have said, “You didn’t let me finish: ‘smoke crack rocks onstage!’ ” Maybe a year after that was his first scandal.
Fame can be a tough thing.
Some people have great experiences in show business. We’ll say, for lack of a better term, I had an allergic reaction to some of the things that I was going through.
I’ve always put the ability to handle celebritydom on a spectrum—some are more allergic than others. On one end of the spectrum, you have Beyoncé, who’s incredible at being famous…
She’s built up an immunity.
Right. But on the other end, you have someone like Lauryn Hill, who was loved, critically acclaimed, and has stated that fame was the cause of most of her troubles.
It’s funny you say those two, because I watched a few minutes of On the Run [the HBO concert film with Beyoncé and Jay Z] the other night. And Beyoncé sang “Ex-Factor,” which is from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Lauryn’s in some kind of weird legal position. I don’t even know if she’s allowed to sing all of her catalog. It was beautiful the way Beyoncé sang the song, but it made me wince a little bit. It’s like when I see someone steal a joke from me: I really would have liked to tell that one myself! And I also think that women in show business—and this is a sweeping generalization—they have a very different existence than men. Paparazzi chase ‘em a little harder. The critics, I think, are a little meaner. I mean, look at Britney Spears, like, having a kid. She’s a new mom, and I don’t know if you have kids or not, but it’s a very sensitive time in a woman’s life when they’re a new mom. And the way the media was criticizing her mothering, I was like, That shit is ice-cold. ‘Cause even if you’re super-strong, that shit will fuck with you. Whereas if they were like, “Dave Chappelle’s a bad father,” I’d be like, “So what?”
So what was it like to be a full-time dad, a stay-at-home dad?
I was trying to explain to my kids the other day how different my 40 was to my dad’s 40. I skateboard sometimes, play video games, buy motorcycles. I ride bikes now. Like, man, I’m a real action-packed 40-year-old dad, like, relative to what a 40-year-old was like when we were growing up.
Also, I have this thing where I meet people whose kids are, like, superhuman perfect: “She speaks three languages now, blah blah.” That used to make me feel shitty. Like, “Aw man, I really have to crack the whip and do this and that.” But then I watch their kid for a while and then watch mine. And my kids look actually happy. And I learned early on that perfectionism and parenthood is a toxic combination for everybody involved. In other words, so many things can flourish naturally. All you gotta do is make sure the soil’s right. But I view myself more like a guide than a ruler. Their mother’s the ruler.
What were you like as a kid?
I didn’t start coming into my own as a guy until I was 12 years old. I can actually remember the moment. I went to a party. I was scared to go to this party, but I ended up going anyway. And when I got there, it was like I could tell everyone was really happy I came. And then a kid explained to me, “Man, it’s not as much fun when you’re not here.” And I was like, Oh, I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize that kids thought I was funny—that I had actual friends. Even at 14, when I started doing stand-up, I was always a pack animal. I’d like to be a lone wolf, but I’m just not.
One thing that was super timely for your Radio City show was Donald Sterling.
Thank God! I would have been ten minutes short.
What’d you think of the aftermath?
Ultimately, I don’t think he should have lost his team. I don’t like the idea that someone could record a secret conversation and that a person could lose their assets from that, even though I think what he said was awful. When you think about the intimacy of a situation, like, can a man just chill with his mistress in peace?* I just don’t like when things like that happen, because if they take shit away for things that people say that are objectionable, I may not have anything in a few years. Granted, I don’t think I say shit like “Stop bringing white people to my game.”