There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
I know in my last post I claimed I wouldn't be writing on here for a while, but Dave Chappelle's artistry was enough for me to awaken from my self-imposed stupor. Chappelle's Show is the reason I titled my podcast Rajit's Show. I believed that if someone so true to the spirit of the craft could name his show after himself, then it would not be vain for me to do so as well. Watching Chappelle is like watching a magic trick. He weaves stories together with such precision that it's not until the punchline that I recognize the tapestry he's created.
The fact that man could scrape the inner lining of his soul to produce so much joy for the world and be denied the fruits of his labor breaks my heart. It was a theft: "if you are streaming that show, you are fencing stolen goods." I choose this word in full knowledge of the fact that Chappelle himself recognizes the legality of Viacom's position. The question he demands we ask ourselves forces us to consider the people we want to be: "but is that right?"
The shot heard around the world:
Before its first episode aired in January of 2003, Dave Chappelle signed a contract with Comedy Central to produce his comedy sketch series Chappelle's Show. He compared the meeting with Comedy Central executives to finalize the deal to incident at the age of 18 when he was duped in a game of three-card Monty. "What if they were all friends and I didn't know it?" After two spectacularly successful seasons of the show, Chappelle choose to walk away before the premiere of the third season in 2005. Because of Chappelle's decision to leave the show, Comedy Central weren't liable to pay him.
In a comedy special released on Instagram, Chappelle describes the language of his contract which granted Comedy Central the right to use his likeness "in perpetuity throughout the universe." Perhaps it's because the nature of this legalese is so sweeping that it sounds so ridiculous. I doubt his story is even possible in this post-permission world. Imagine a Chappelle's Show hosted on Youtube. As Chappelle recognizes, such a framework would leave him at the mercy of us, his "real boss." Netflix stopped streaming Chappelle's Show at his request and now HBO Max has too. These actions fall short of rectifying the plunder; Viacom has the opportunity to give Chappelle back what is his. The alternative, which Chappelle delivers before tossing his mic on the floor, is that Dave Chappelle can do what any man would do when someone obstructs his livelihood: he can just take it.
Sign the petition to help fight against an institution's right to strip a man of that very thing which makes him most human: his art.
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Supplement this post with writing celebrating the joy of creation, how art immortalizes us, and the importance of being earnest.