The release of Surviving R. Kelly has brought new attention to the litany of sexual misconduct allegations brought against R. Kelly. The Lifetime miniseries laying out each accusation has made many reevaluate their collaborations with Kelly, and made many wonder exactly why it took so long for people to take his crimes seriously.
The airing of the show has sparked a criminal investigation of Kelly in Georgia. But one perhaps-unintended side effect is a reevaluation of the way Chappele’s Show lampooned Kelly over a decade ago. The rapper was a consistent target of the D.C. comedian during the show’s run from 2003 to 2006.
One of those sketches, of course, was Chappelle as R. Kelly singing a song called “Piss on You.”
The sketch is one people instantly identify as a Chappelle’s Show bit, along with Charlie Murphy telling the story of Prince playing basketball against he and his brother’s entourage. But unlike the hilarious story about the late musician making pancakes, sketches about Kelly and underage girls makes light of a series of very serious crimes — some of which were committed with urine.
And because of that, Surviving R. Kelly has retroactively brought about criticism of Chappelle and others involved with the show, charging he and his collaborators with doing nothing about the alleged crimes but making jokes. One who’s spoken up about those charges is Neal Brennan, co-creator and co-writer of Chappelle’s Show.
In an interview on The Breakfast Club, however, Brennan clears the air and says just how much of a risk the show took by taking on Kelly and his legal troubles.
“I don’t think people understand what comedy is supposed to do,” Brennan said. “We will observe things, we will make fun of things. Did people want us to round up a posse and go arrest R. Kelly? Like, what were we supposed to do?”
Brennan makes a good point: Chappelle’s Show, a Comedy Central show, was one of the only places that actually took aim at Kelly. He equated it to Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which lampooned Adolf Hitler in 1940. It wasn’t his job to end Hitler’s regime, but to show how ridiculous it was.
And besides, Brennan says, Chappelle wasn’t on Kelly’s side. In fact, he saw some pretty significant blowback because of it.
“R. Kelly wanted to fight Dave,” Brennan said. “He literally… his goons stepped to Dave in Chicago and Dave’s goons intervened. The goons negotiated.”
That cracked The Breakfast Club up, and it was admittedly funny. But it does reveal something not many people actually knew. And Brennan’s point remains: Chappelle’s Show wasn’t trying to say any of this was OK. Their brand of comedy, which equally lampooned the Iraq War, The Real World, and people of all cultures, was meant to shine a light on things worth making fun of, not glorify them.
“So the idea that we somehow normalize this… like, we also did a white supremacist sketch,” Brennan said, referencing the sketch about a blind African American man named Clayton Bigsby who ran a local chapter of the KKK. “I don’t think we normalized white supremacy. Our job is to poke fun at things, and even if it’s bleak we still poke fun at it. We’re trying to humiliate a guy who’s known for peeing on… it’s insane.”
Here’s the full interview, if you want to hear Brennan talk about his other projects and give a bit more context to the conversation. It’s important to note that Chappelle isn’t the only showrunner that took on Kelly, his crimes, and his legacy. Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks TV show on Adult Swim also addressed his legal troubles in the second episode of the show’s first season, called ‘The Trial Of Robert Kelly.’
There’s no word on whether Kelly sent people after the famously-reclusive McGruder for his lampooning, but it’s notable that many first criticized Chappelle’s sketches before getting to The Boondocks. Hopefully McGruder had some “goons” to negotiate with Kelly’s “goons” to make peace, too.