It was announced today that Dave Chappelle, the iconic stand-up comedian and sketch comedy revolutionary has been tapped to receive the 2019 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, an honour that seems well-fit to an artist who redefined contemporary comedy and left an indelible impression on the business of making people laugh. The award comes at a time when Chappelle’s popularity is at a new height, being a part of one of the most inspiring comeback stories of the past few years. Chappelle, best known for his biting stand-up comedy, has long been regarded as one of the very best contemporary comedians working today. However, he is most recognizable for his Comedy Central sketch series, Chappelle’s Show, which has garnered a massive following and is widely considered one of the greatest in the format and has inspired many other similar shows.
The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is given out annually by the Kennedy Center to an individual who has left a remarkable imprint on comedy in some way, and as a result have made an impact on American society as a whole. Chappelle will be in illustrious company, with past recipients including Bill Murray, David Letterman, Carol Burnett, George Carlin and Eddie Murphy. The committee of the prize have received considerable criticism in the past for awarding some recipients prematurely, with this award often being considered a lifetime achievement award, rather than one given to someone still in their peak. Chappelle certainly qualifies for the latter, being the third-youngest recipient of the award. The record is currently held by Tina Fey (40), followed by Will Ferrell (44). By the time Chappelle receives the prize, he will be 46, tying him with Whoopi Goldberg. He is just ahead of one of his steadfast comedic inspirations, Richard Pryor (48), who received the inaugural prize in 1998.
However, despite being relatively young in comparison to other recipients, it is undeniable that Chappelle has made significant impact. Chappelle’s Show had acclaim from critics as well as being quite popular with critics – yet while at the peak of the show, its creator rejected a massive offer for a fourth season, and then walked away from showbusiness for over a decade, retreating to South Africa. He made a triumphant return to stand-up in 2013, and in subsequent years, his career would go from strength to strength. His sketch show inspired many others, such as Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele (which Chappelle has openly referred to as being directly derived from his show, albeit with affection), and several comedians have tried to emulate Chappelle’s unique stand-up style that seamlessly blends biting satire, powerful social commentary and gloriously vulgar humor that makes every one of his shows an experience.
This award is yet another addition to Chappelle’s rapidly-growing collection of trophies in recognition of his talents. In 2017, he won his very first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his critically-acclaimed hosting stint on Saturday Night Live, and the following year won his second for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) for the Netflix production of his stand-up show Dave Chappelle: Equanimity. He also won two consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Album in 2018 and 2019 for his recordings of Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin & Deep in the Heart of Texas and Dave Chappelle: Equanimity & The Bird Revelation.
Chappelle is still very much active in the entertainment industry – he was seen last year in a memorable dramatic torn in A Star Is Born. He is currently still touring, recently having visited cities around the world (I was very fortunate to be at one of his Johannesburg shows last December). With Netflix allegedly paying Chappelle a reported $60 million for his comedy specials, we can safely assume we’ll be getting more material from him on the platform very soon.
Dave Chappelle will be bestowed with the Mark Twain Prize on October 27th, with the special airing on PBS in January next year.