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The Height Of Humor: Dave Chappelle Receives The Mark Twain Prize

It’s considered the highest honor bestowed upon a comedian and on Sunday, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was given to Dave Chappelle.

It makes sense too. His career has been unconventional. He’s defied the odds. Chappelle bucked the system and created his own path in the face of every critic who believed he was loosing his mind.

Morgan Freeman and Chris Tucker (photo by Tracey Salazar & courtesy of The Kennedy Center)

He bet on himself, walking away from a $50 million deal at Comedy Central for the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed “Chappelle’s Show.”

But now, after a then-controversial respite to Africa and organically re-launching his career with strategic appearances and performances in small comedy clubs, Chappelle is making top dollar again.

In 2016, it was announced that Chappelle had landed a $60 million at Netflix for three comedy specials. They were the most-viewed specials in Netflix history, the first the comedian had done in 12 years.

Tiffany Haddish (photo by Tracey Salazar & courtesy of The Kennedy Center)

The 49-year-old funnyman would release two additional specials for Netflix, reportedly making $20 per show, which would mean his overall payday from Netflix was $100!

The journey from his beginnings in comedy to his current headline-making, record-breaking success is what folks like Chappelle’s writing partner Neal Brennan, actor/director Bradley Cooper, comedienne Tiffany Haddish, singer John Legend, “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels, and his former Comedy Central colleague Jon Stewart, rappers Q-Tip and Mos Def (new name Yasiin Bey), among others talked about as they saluted their friend during the celebration at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Though Brennan delivered the funniest speech to me—watching Chappelle turn out of his seat laughing while Brennan delivered it was equally as entertaining; the other highlight for me was the by “SNL’s” Michael Che, who appeared alongside colleagues Kenan Thompson and Colin Jost. Che was appropriately irreverent and had a mic-drop moment that really stole the show.

Elaine and Dave Chappelle in their box seat. (Photo by Darrel R. Todd and courtesy of The Kennedy Center)

Morgan Freeman was the announcer for the show.  There was also a pre-taped video segment, Eddie Murphy. Of course Murphy’s late brother Charlie Murphy rose to stardom as part of the “Chappelle’s Show” cast.

“SNL’s” Michael Che and Colin Jost (Photo by Tracey Salazar and courtesy of The Kennedy Center)

As only he could, Chappelle had the Kennedy Center remix the format of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor television special and add a house band. A music enthusiast, who regularly partied at jam sessions with Prince, Chappelle had some of his favorite artists like John Legend, Common, Erykah Badu and harmonica player Frédéric Yonnet perform with Adam Blackstone and his BBE Band.

And in the audience were many of Chappelle’s other famous friends, including Chance The Rapper, Marlon Wayans, Michelle Wolf, Jeff Ross, Sasheer Zamata, Chris Tucker, George Lopez, MC Lyte and “Chappelle’s Show” regular Donnell Rawling, among others.

Mark Twain Co-Chairs Grant Hill & Tamia (Photo by Tracey Salazar and courtesy of The Kennedy Center)

R&B superstar Tamia and NBA legend Grant Hill were the co-chairs of the event.

In the end, the Washington, D.C. native and current Ohio resident accepted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor with a lit cigarette in hand paying homage to his mother, his wife and doing what he does best, making the crowd laugh.

“What I really wanted to say tonight, and I’m glad to get the platform to do it: I’m gay! I am gay, and I can’t wait to see what this does for my career, being handled like this,” offered Chappelle, to a huge laugh from the crowd.

You’ll see that joke and many more when The Kennedy Center presents the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to Dave Chappelle on PBS on Jan. 7, 2020.

Dave Chappelle accepts his Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (Photo by Tracey Salazar and courtesy of The Kennedy Center)

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