In this Sept. 8, 2018 file photo, Dave Chappelle speaks at the press conference for "A Star Is Born" on day 4 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. (Photo: AP)
Boundary-pushing comedian Dave Chappelle is the latest recipient of the Mark Twain prize for lifetime achievement in comedy, an honor being bestowed Sunday night at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
The event is a homecoming for Chappelle, who was raised in suburban Silver Spring, Maryland, attended Washington’s prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts and filmed his first HBO special in the capital.
Chappelle was already a well-established comedian and comedic actor when he was given his own sketch comedy show in 2003.
The show on Comedy Central, “Chappelle’s Show,” was an immediate hit. It combined clever parodies that often tweaked racial conventions with uniquely staged musical productions featuring hip-hop and soul artists.
At the height of his popularity, Chappelle shocked the entertainment industry by walking away from a lucrative contract extension and abandoning the show while it was preparing for its third season. He disappeared from public view and took an extended trip to Africa. He later explained that the pressures of the show’s success and the influence applied by the network made him feel “like some kind of a prostitute.”
Chappelle gradually returned to performing, more powerful than ever, and now releases regular stand-up specials under a multimillion-dollar deal with Netflix. The departure from his own hit show made him an inspirational symbol for artists and comedians, particularly minorities, for his willingness to sacrifice profit to retain his independence.
Twain recipients are typically honored by a series of testimonials, musical performances and often a surprise guest or two. This year, the announced guest list includes comedians Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart and Tiffany Haddish, musicians John Legend and Q-Tip and actors Bradley Cooper and Morgan Freeman.
The ceremony will be broadcast Jan. 7 on PBS.