‘I Love This Genre, It Saved My Life’: Dave Chappelle Awarded Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

Photo: Paul Morigi (Getty Images)

While Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special didn’t exactly endear him to some segments of his not-so-adoring public, one thing we can all agree upon is that the 46-year-old comedian is a master of his craft and is in a class of his own. And if that wasn’t already painfully obvious, it became even more so on Sunday when Chappelle received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

As NPR notes, it almost felt like a family reunion. Not only were Chappelle’s wife and kids in attendance, but so was an assortment of famous faces who either performed or paid tribute to the comedic genius:

A selection of his favorite musicians — people like Yasiin Bey, Common, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, Frederic Yonnet and John Legend — performed throughout the evening. And his fellow comedians talked about him like he was kin.

“Dave, you have always been a mentor,” Tiffany Haddish said from the stage. “You’ve been my mentor, my big brother. Every time I step on stage — every time — I think of you, because I’ve always want[ed] to make you proud. ‘Cause you the greatest.”

Haddish joined Sarah Silverman, Neal Brennan, Morgan Freeman, Lorne Michaels, Bradley Cooper, Aziz Ansari, Jon Stewart and the Saturday Night Live cast members Kenan Thompson, Michael Che and Colin Jost onstage to pay tribute to their friend and hero.

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“Dave, can you believe this? You’re getting the freaking Mark Twain Prize,” Silverman said on stage. “You deserve it. It’s the right thing. It’s actually perfect that you’re getting the Mark Twain Prize because you both love using the N-word in your masterpieces.”

According to CNN, Stewart celebrated Chappelle as “a man that seeks out people and experience and knowledge, and he wants to touch it and feel it and be with it on the ground so that he can then channel that through his art, and then redirect that back to you as something completely different and new.”

Sounds about right.

And while lauded for his seemingly superhuman ability to combine satire with storytelling, at the end of the day, the Chapelle’s Show co-creator is still a student at heart.

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“I love my art form because I understand every practitioner of it, whether I agree with them or not I know where they’re coming from. They want to be heard, they got something to say, there’s something they notice. They just want to be understood,” he said. “I love this genre, it saved my life.”

PBS will air a television special for the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Jan. 7.

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Jay Connor

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.