What Donald Glover Learned From Dave Chappelle Walking Away From ‘Chappelle’s Show’
Dave Chappelle has left a permanent mark on, not only the world of comedy, but the world of entertainment. His Comedy Central sketch, Chappelle’s Show, only lasted for three seasons, with only two seasons hosted by the comedian. And yet, many hold those three seasons in high regard, with Chappelle’s Show inspiring many sketch comedy series that came after it like Mind of Mencia and Key & Peele.
Chappelle walked away from his show in 2005 for several grievances he had behind the scenes. Donald Glover, who’s now the head of his own series in Atlanta, picked up a valuable lesson watching how Chappelle handled his issues with the series.
Donald Glover started his career by writing for television
Donald Glover got his big break in Hollywood as a television writer. Glover attended New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he joined an improv comedy group that would later catch Tina Fey’s eye. Tina Fey, who saw one of Glover’s short videos, decided to hire the young 23-year-old college student.
“I decided I wanted to write for television because of Tina,” Glover said according to Wired. “She was always so happy, and I was like, I want to be happy like that, too.”
Although Fey greatly admired his talent, the 30 Rock creator admitted that she also hired Glover because he was free to put on her team. According to the New Yorker, NBC’s diversity initiative made it so that Fey could hire Glover with no cost.
Glover would return to his television roots years later by writing, starring, and producing FX’s Atlanta. Many elements inspired the genesis of the show. His real-life experiences and partnerships with people in the industry have helped inform his Emmy-winning series. But also, he names Bernie Mac and Dave Chappelle’s shows as sources for Atlanta’s inspiration.
“Those shows were so honest and so true,” Glover told Wired about Mac and Chappelle. “Bernie Mac had a sister who was a crack addict on the show. It wasn’t funny, but it was real.”
As much as Glover admired Chappelle, Chappelle taught him by example after leaving his show and walking away from $50 million.
What Donald Glover learned from Dave Chappelle
In the same interview with Wired, Chappelle expressed his admiration and appreciation for Donald Glover. He confided that it was hard keeping track of Glover’s work, and how much he enjoys the artist’s work.
“I can’t keep up with all the s- he’s doing, but it’s all damn good. That he can do it all blows me away,” Chappelle said. He then makes note of the differences between his show and Atlanta, namely referencing the formats and time periods of both programs. “But my show was a sketch show, and Donald’s is more of a regular sitcom. And then we’re in a different time. Race is more nuanced today, and that helps the message. It’s been 10 years.”
Wired notes how Chappelle left his show in 2005 because, in part, due to a disconnect between his material and the audience. It saw the comedian walking away from $50 million, at a time when his career reached its peak. Glover learned something valuable from watching his predecessor’s actions.
“On some level, the situation Dave faced is probably already happening,” Glover said. “But that’s why it’s so good to have a room full of people who understand what you’re trying to do. You’ve got to have someone willing to say ‘I don’t enjoy that.’ That makes you step back and rethink when someone says that s- doesn’t work.”
How the FX Network gave Atlanta a lot more freedom than BET would have
FX Network president John Landgraf admitted to Wired they granted Glover a lot of freedom for the TV series. In the beginning, the FX network agreed to do the show more so due to Glover’s passion behind his pitch of the show rather than the concept.
“We like to sit down with artists a few times and listen to what they say about their project,” Landgraf said. “With Donald, he didn’t always articulate his vision in a way that we could see it, but his passion and ambition were clear. So we felt confident in the story he wanted to tell and how he wanted to tell it.”
But Glover wanted Atlanta to have the right tone and language. For Glover, that could only be done by hiring an all-black writing team. Although Glover didn’t set out to make an all-black writing staff, it’s just something that happened without intention.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision, really,” Glover said. “I knew I wanted people with similar experiences who understood the language of the show.”
An FX-Network executive felt that most networks, including BET, wouldn’t have agreed to Glover’s casting decisions when it came to writers. Not necessarily because of the racial make-up of the team, but because of their lack of experience.
“Listen, even BET wouldn’t have given him that much freedom,” An FX executive claimed. “An all-black writers’ room is one thing, but for me, it’s the number of writers who hadn’t written on a show before at all. Most networks aren’t going to take that chance.”