Hollywood on the Potomac: Cheers to Chappelle

by Janet Donovan

Photos by Tony Powell and courtesy of The Kennedy Center
Whether it’s at one of his pop-up comedy shows or famed Juke Joint concerts-cum-stand-up-routines, funnyman Dave Chappelle has never had trouble drawing a crowd. So it was no surprise that a huge audience and stacked line-up of celebrities came out to support the comedian as he received the Kennedy Center’s prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

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Clockwise from top left: Dave Chappelle flanked by Cafe Milano owner Franco Nuschese, BET co-founder Bob Johnson, UAE Amb. Yousef Al Otaiba, harmonicist Fred Yonnet and comedian Donnell Rawlings; Dave Chappelle with his wife Elaine; Jon Stewart and Tracey McShane; Michelle Wolf and George Lopez
The weekend’s events began on Saturday night at the National Museum of African American History and Culture with an intimate dinner and ended with an all-night rager at Cafe Milano, where at 5 a.m. a handful of District police officers reluctantly shut the party down. At a small dinner hosted by Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter and Chairman David Rubenstein, Chappelle was given a first edition of Mark Twain’s work by Rutter, who said “Tonight it’s not just a big happy reunion party for you, but it’s a way for us to say thank you for all that you have done and all that you will continue to do in the future.”
“The thing that’s so crazy about Mark Twain is that I went to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and I auditioned to get into the school with the Mark Twain pieces “The Judge’s ‘SpiritedWoman.’’And it sucked,” said Chappelle at a small Saturday night kick-off dinner. “And when they asked me the make or break question,“Why do you want to act?” and I told them I didn’t, it floored them. I said “I want to be a stand up comedian” and someone told me that I should take acting classes so I can be a good one.

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Because of that answer, they let me into the school.”

Clockwise from top left: Morgan Freeman and Chris Tucker; Tiffany Haddish and Marlon Wayans;Erykah Badu and Common; Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che, Colin Jost, Kenan Thompson and Lorne Michaels
We asked Morgan Freeman if Chapelle had ever made him the butt of a joke. “No, because I am not funny. I’m not even funny material. I’m a famous movie star. You don’t make fun of people like that … I hope,” he answered.

Clockwise from top left: Michael and Iris Smith with Chris Tucker, Yasin Bey “Mos Def”; Aziz Ansar and Lorne Michaels; Samira Baraki, Leon Robinson and Tracey Otey Blunt
“It must be nice to have Dave Chappelle on your side. Dave makes everybody kick their game up. He’s a comedian’s comedian,” commented Chris Tucker on his fellow funnyman. “He makes comedians laugh. That’s how good he is.”

Clockwise from top left: Alexa Rachlin and David Rubenstein; John Legend; Grant and Tamia Hill; Q-Tip and Deborah Rutter
In a message directed at Chappelle, actor Bradley Cooper sung his praises for the comedian. “My daughter’s back [stage] and I’m so grateful I got to meet you before I had my daughter because you taught me how to be a better man,” said Cooper. “I’m so lucky to be alive at the same time you are. You are even unique as a genius because you treat everybody the same.

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That’s my favorite thing about you.”

The television special of the ceremony will air on PBS stations on Jan. 7.
This article ran in Holiday 2019 issue of Washington Life.

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