Battlestar Galactica; Dave Chappelle

I’m on the ‘damn early train’ from Washington to New York today.  Although there is a train called the ‘Empire Builder’, that’s not the one I’m on.  A shame really, as we’re in a period of tremendous growth at Mindshare.  We’re all busting tail and growing the firm as fast as possible.  Hence the fact that I’m about to become a frequent traveler which will, in my opinion, result in a drop in my quality of life.

Here’s a first: I’m posting from the Amtrak on my Sierra wireless modem using Cingular’s 3G service.  It’s about as fast as my Verizon DSL line used to be at my house, but without the grief of dealing with Verizon.  It’s pretty cool though.  Apart from not having to hunt for a wifi spot, and then pulling out my credit card to buy my one hour or one day pass, the system has the handoff technology you expect out of the cellular network.

So, unlike wifi, if you’re moving in a car or in a train, you don’t get the drop-connect-drop issues.   And one would hope that it would be available on planes once cellphone service is available there.

Anyway I picked up the DC and Philly papers in the station on the way out of DC and caught two items in the Philadelphia Inquirer that I think are worthy of your reading.

The first is a puff piece on Battlestar Galactica.  Whoever they paid for this PR is really earning their money.  It covers the popularity of the new show, and talks about the big cliff-hanger coming this week.  I was particularly impressed to hear that the show has a big following with both younger viewers as well as Navy guys, because of the sincerity to the Navy command structure on the show.

The second, and more important piece, is the interview with Dave Chappelle and the backstory on his highly publicized disappearance and abandonment of his Comedy Central show.  There are some key quotes that are classic Dave Chappelle, including:

"I walked away from 50 million dollars.  I must be the most gangsta bitch in show business!"

The story of Chappelle’s disappearance is straightforward, and in fact identifies the very moment that caused him to change his mind.  I’ve often mentioned the importance of such moments in your life, and heartened to see Dave Chappelle having an epiphany during one:

While taping a sketch in blackface, about racial stereotypes, Chappelle heard a white spectator laughing in a way that sounded as if it were at him, not with him.

For a comedian who always plays at the edge of the racial debate in our culture, Chappelle constantly played the knife edge of ‘not funny and too serious’ and ‘reinforcing stereotypes to get a laugh’.  The beauty of Chappelle’s comedy is that he always knew where the line was, and he always knew how to make it funny.  Chappelle himself has the quality of ‘other’ to everyone: to white people he’s the black comedian that makes them laugh.  To black people he’s the black comedian that is accepted by a broader-than-black audience.  His status as other made it possible for him to make jokes because he possessed the identity ambiguity that got him off the hook with everyone hearing the joke.

And yet finally he lost his way.  As one observer said, "If you’re dealing with intelligent comedy, there’s a fine line between breaking down stereotypes and cooning.  Dave lost his ability to know where that line was.  Some guys laughs and he runs off to Africa."

I have to admire Chappelle for noticing this at all.  As Spike Lee so eloquently showed in his masterpiece ‘Bamboozled‘ (go Netflix it, it’s brilliantly dark), so many comedians just ‘coon’ for the paycheck.  While many have made the right choice before, it is doubtful that anyone has ever turned down so much money at once. 

Ironically, one critic thinks Chappelle should have put his values above money, saying, "Noting that African-Americans should seek to establish their own wealth, a rich Chappelle is a powerful Chappelle.  ‘He could easily inspire the next wave of people to aim for what he’s accomplished.’ "

What this man doesn’t get is that we are what we earn.  It’s a lesson taught repeatedly through many forms of art, including Po Bronson’s book, "What Should I Do With My Life?" as well as Bamboozled and many others.  With very few exceptions, we don’t get to make a living and then turn our life around with a pursuit of something else.  We are what we do, and if we don’t like what we do, we can’t earn our way through it. 

There are exceptions, but the admonition to live a better life today and pay attention to those little voices, even the ones that are laughing.  Sometimes they aren’t only in your head.