"Sorry I'm late, kids," says Dave Chappelle, holding his crotch. "Santa got caught up with some pussy in Vegas. I had to sell some toys to get back." The 25-year-old comedian is doing his idea of a black Santa Claus on a riotous HBO Comedy Half-hour where he also sounds off on crime, fame, sex, drugs and strip clubs. "Watching me now is like watching what I would call Dave Chappelle's Masterpiece Theatre," he says, about his stream-of-consciousness act. "It's like I talk about stuff that's been on my mind and I just act it out."
Chappelle's fans almost got to see him do his thing on prime time. His very own Fox sitcom was scheduled to be a midseason replacement, but Chappelle walked when network brass requested he add a splash of Caucasian to the predominantly black show. "They wanted me to recast a role for a white person," he explains, "to give the show what they said was a more 'universal' appeal. You know what that means? And in my mind, it just didn't ring true.... It would be like Jerry Seinfeld hanging out with black people on his show. It would look like there was a black guy there to make black people watch."
Besides, he's busy on the big screen. Chappelle's provided comic zing in The Nutty Professor, Con Air, Woo, You've Got Mail and Half Baked (which he co-wrote). This March, he'll be in the ensemble comedy 200 Cigarettes, with a cast (Ben Affleck, Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo) that reads like a who's hip of young actors. And then there are the upcoming projects with Norm Macdonald and Martin Lawrence.
But it's how people react to his standup that matters most to Chappelle. "As long as they take a warm feeling with them," he says. "One of them jokes that, like, you're doing your laundry, and it crossed your mind and made you laugh."
If that black Santa Claus bit doesn't make you chuckle again, something is wrong with you.