When Dave Chappelle walked away from Comedy Central’s $50 million deal for two more seasons of Chappelle’s Show in 2005, the comic’s seemingly sudden departure not only proved disastrous for the network, but also for his longtime friendship and collaboration with Neal Brennan. The two have since reconciled, though the Chappelle’s Show fallout — especially among its ardent fanbase at the time — caused many to unknowingly lay the blame squarely on Brennan’s shoulders.
On the latest episode of People’s Party, host Talib Kweli — who is also friends with Chappelle and Brennan — spoke with the latter about the Chappelle’s Show fallout and what happened after. The pair also discussed Brennan’s unique presence as a white comedian writing and performing for largely black audiences.
“If you assume that Chappelle’s Show ended on some racist sh*t, then who else are you gonna hold responsible?” Brennan jokingly asks. In response, Kweli wonders if “people sometimes treat you like you’re the guy who was fighting with Dave.” Brennan’s answer is fairly quick (and repeated): “Yes.”
“People can’t believe that you would be mad at [Chappelle],” he says. “Or, you would disagree with him. Or, you would fight with him. That’s actually proof of not racism — that I can openly f*cking fight with my friend. It’s easy for me to say, ‘Race has nothing to do with it,’ but I would venture to say it has very little… it has little as it possibly could [to do with it]. I’ll say that. But people don’t like someone that they really like… they don’t like you disagreeing with them.”
“Regardless of how you feel about how race could have as little to do with it as possible,” Kweli notes, “what I know about you and Dave is that you guys truly love each other. It’s a real love there and you guys worked on it together.”
As great as Brennan and Chappelle clicked before and during their time at Comedy Central, and after their eventual reconciliation years later, the former suggests most of what the latter’s fans thought about him was actually true of the executives and other industry professionals who tried to corral and control them.
“We’re both paying a price in that regard,” he says. “The studio execs assume the white guy did all the [work]. It’s usually, ‘So Neal, you’re the structure guy?’ ‘Yup! And the jokes come and I don’t know what the f*ck is going on.’ No, we both do both. It assumes that Dave can’t do structure and I can’t do jokes.”
You can watch Brennan and Kweli’s conversation about the Chappelle’s Show fallout and industry racism here. Otherwise, make sure to check out the full interview, which also includes a thoughtful conversation about mental health, above.