Editorial

March 30, 2015
 

Kevin Hart: How the Hollywood Comedy Would Have Been Saved If Chappelle Never Left

As another Kevin Hart movie is released (Get Hard), I comparatively wonder what the career of Dave Chappelle could have been. I say COULD because Hart’s career is certainly nothing like what Chappelle had in mind. Hart has fully embraced Hollywood and his newfound stardom, where Chappelle rebelled against almost everything that came with reaching that certain level of success. Chappelle feels that when you reach a certain level of “success” you become dehumanized. He never went crazy as was reported. The Africa trip wasn’t about drugs, but rather getting away from the Hollywood “game”, which scared the shit out of him. Hart on the other hand, seemingly becomes more and more comfortable as he climbs the ladder of fame. As he continues to climb to the top, and stars in a few dozen movies every year, for some reason I’m drawn back to the career of Dave Chappelle. Sure these guys have slightly different styles, but they are both stand-up comedians who put in their time playing the Hollywood game to eventually becoming leading men. They were both in multiple films before hitting that level of notoriety that tends to lead to the staring role of a Hollywood feature.

While they are different ages, (Chappelle 41- Hart 35), and differing levels of films to their credit (13 for Chappelle and 35 for Hart), whenever I see Hart in a new film I long for Chappelle. My desire to see Chappelle in more movies is completely selfish. It was never Chappelle’s goal to reach Kevin Hart’s level of fame, however he’s forever immortalized and will no doubt leave more of a lasting impact on popular culture than Kevin Hart could ever reach. It’s a shame (for everyone other than Chappelle and his family) that we may never see Chappelle in another film or television show, but are force-fed stereotypically bland performances and dozens of terrible Kevin Hart films.

Before I truly begin I want to make a five quick points:

 

  1. I find Kevin Hart extremely funny; otherwise I wouldn’t make this comparison to begin with.
  2. What I don’t like about Kevin Hart are his movies. His standup is without a doubt fantastic.
  3. Chappelle doesn’t want and never desired a career like Kevin Hart’s. At all.
  4. While I typically find Hart’s films awful, he is not the reason why. It’s usually a combination of terrible writing/directing/stereotypes/clichés.
  5. Again, this is coming from the selfish place of wondering “what could have been” if Hollywood didn’t drive Mr. Chappelle away. What did we (his fans) miss out on? What would he be starring in now? Was he genius enough to elevate the entire landscape of Hollywood and comedies in general? Or was the system that chewed him up and spit him out turning their back on one of the most naturally gifted comedians of all-time. Was he blacklisted and not given the opportunities after proving he wouldn’t simply be a pawn in the game?

My theory is that if Dave Chappelle had chosen to stay within the system, Hollywood would be completely different. Chappelle is a genius, and certainly would have changed the current comedic landscape that has become stale, repetitive, clichéd, lazy, and almost entirely forgettable.

I compare the current state of Hollywood comedies to the terrible state of mainstream American horror films. We’ve become so accustomed to mediocrity that when a decent effort is released, it garners more praise than otherwise deserved. Take James Wan’s 2013 horror film The Conjuring. I’m not saying the film isn’t good; it’s just not great. This “good” movie was however better than 99% of the other feature length horror films (and better than some Oscar nominated films) released that year, so it has the appearance of being great. It’s not. Sure there are cool camera tricks, but the film relies on clichés and jump scares to entertain the audience. There’s almost nothing original in the film, or anything truly memorable, yet it’s regarded as a classic. Again, it’s not. I only bring this up because the same thing is happening to our comedies. Every year the Oscars (not that it’s necessarily a true representation of the “best films”) chose drama after drama for award contention. Horror, and especially comedies never try anything risky or original and are content with mediocrity.

Looking at Kevin Hart’s film career only backs up this sentiment. He’s an extremely talented standup and comedic actor who is in one terrible movie after another. Not to say he’s terrible in them, he’s just not given much to work with. For example, last year’s film Ride Along was a commercial success raking in $154 million at the box office against a budget of $25 million. That kind of profit puts blinders on the studios eyes, as all they see is cash money. This doesn’t give the studios any incentive to try to make a better movie; they simply green-light a sequel, and do more of the same. Everyone cashes in, including Hart, but hey, Chappelle would never play that game. Look for Ride Along 2 in theaters next year. I’m sure you can already guess the plot and a majority of the jokes.

half-baked

(Chapelle as Sir Smoke-a-Lot in Half Baked)

So what exactly happened to Mr. Chappelle to cause him to turn away from inevitable cinematic success? Chappelle’s story is a familiar one… up until a certain point. Chappelle was almost instantly successful at comedy. His standup was making waves and then he landed a role in Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights. He continued his standup routines, which led to specials (although I’m certainly not arguing that Chappelle is a better standup comedian, Hart’s had unreal box office returns for his standup specials). Chappelle continued to land roles in movies like The Nutty Professor and Con Air, until he was given a chance to star in a movie he also wrote. That movie is the classic stoner comedy Half Baked. While not perfect, almost everyone within a certain age demographic has seen the film once, if not multiple times. This was 1998 and he’d continue starring in roles until 2002. In 2003, his life changed forever. He created and starred in The Chappelle Show, which led to his eventual downfall. In a now classic interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, Chappelle stated: “Did I get too big? Cause I like people. I like entertaining and the higher up I go, for some reason the less happy I am”. At this point in 2006, Chappelle left his show and went on a spiritual journey to Africa, to escape the madness. The media calling him crazy and a drug addict only reassured him that he made the right decision to escape the sickness that is Hollywood.

What if he never left? I think we would have gotten one or two more seasons of The Chappelle Show, until he eventually moved to movies. His move to movies would have differed from Hart’s because Chappelle would be given more creative control of the roles he decided to take. Scripts would be written by him or tailored for his strengths. Hart’s at a disadvantage here, never writing his own scripts and choosing roles that could be interchangeable for any comedian. Chappelle is the type of guy who doesn’t care about fame or money, so his roles would be selected based on quality and not finances.

The comedy world is missing something. That’s not to say there aren’t funny people working; the gatekeepers may be keeping everyone at bay and at a distance, never allowing one person to transcend the landscape. In Hollywood, this may be exactly what they want. Where Kevin Hart is merely a pawn in this game, Chappelle is the guy that could have changed things.

I mean the guy walked away from a $50 million contract, because he knew the price of admission to this level of fame wasn’t worth it. If Hollywood had this guy mentoring and working with guys like the Kevin Harts, the quality of productions could have only risen. Hart’s an extremely smart guy, but Chappelle is much more realistic in his way of looking at things. I really wish this guy could work with all the new talent coming out, because their philosophy and perception of reality would inevitably be shifted. While I know that no one player is bigger than the entire game, Chappelle is that voice that’s so desperately needed as we cross into a new age in Hollywood. Gone are the classic comedies like Caddyshack, Trading Places, Young Frankenstein, Beverly Hills Cop, Blazing Saddles, and even more recent films like Office Space, Friday (one of my personal favorites), and Moonrise Kingdom. Things are changing, and if not Chappelle, we need more guys that echo similar sentiments.

dave-chappelle-tour

(Chapelle today, doing what he loves to do)

Dave Chappelle stood up to the Hollywood system, and in return, may have gotten himself blacklisted, meaning nobody would work with or hire him. This forced him to turn his back on any of this stuff and focus on what truly makes him happy. He lives the lifestyle he wants. He does his standup, spends time with his family, and isn’t living this weird isolated lifestyle that comes with reaching the top of the ladder of “success”.   He’s doing what he wants, and I’m happy for him. I just know that we missed out on something truly special and for that I’m sad. Maybe things wouldn’t have drastically changed and they would have squashed his creativity to the point where he accepted terrible roles and just went through the motions. But I don’t believe this. The Hollywood comedies missed out, and most of all, the world missed out on groundbreaking comedy that would have questioned everything from race to gender equality, instead we have subsequently been force fed mediocre meals that are beginning to taste more and more bland as the years tick away.



About the Author

Peter Towe
Peter Towe
A graduate of UMASS Boston, I have successfully put off getting a "real" job, and continue to watch, produce, review, and obsess over movies. I lived in Boston while I completed my degree, and now live in Chicago trying the improv thing.



 
 

 

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