It's been ten years since his decade-defining Comedy Central show debuted. It's been eight years since he famously turned down $50 million to continue his television career. Then he disappeared, popping up only occasionally to remind he's still alive. But Dave Chapelle may finally be coming back to the people he left so abruptly all those years ago. The world's most elusive comedia was announced as the headliner for Funny or Die's month-long Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival tour. Backed by Hannibal Burress, the Flight of the Concords guys, and Demetri Martin, Chappelle will make his most sustained return to the spotlight in eight years. He'll play 13 show in cities across the country.
For two years, Chappelle's Show was a cultural force that arguably has not been matched since the show ended after its second official season in 2004. There was an unofficial third season that aired in 2006, featuring sketches that had already been shot before Chappelle had a crisis of faith, blew off a $50 million deal, and went into hiding in Africa. There was a brief flirtation with a comeback that year that mostly went nowhere. But, for the most part, Chappelle has avoided the world after briefly becoming comedy's biggest force since Eddie Murphy in the 80s. Since, he has reappared occasionally for surprise shows at comedy clubs, like the spontaneous 45-minute set he did with Chris Rock at New York's Comedy Cellar in March, and they would be breathlessly recapped on the Internet the next morning. But this potentially more sustained run raises an important, essential question: After all these years away, does Dave Chappelle still have it?
His most recent sets have received rave reviews. And The New York Times' Jason Zinoman reports he played two shows this weekend, part of a small tour of Southern comedy clubs; his sets "had tightened, and the transitions were quicker" than some of his previous sets within the last year. "Wearing a tank top and roaming around the stage in a quickening pace, he had the look of a man getting ready," Zinoman writes. Judging by the excitement that surrounded Chappelle's Show tenth anniversary in January, peaking with Grantland's monster 64-entry bracket of his best sketches, the world is ready to embrace Chappelle with open arms. Now, once again, it's up to Dave.