Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dave Chappelle's Block Party and the Joys of Doing Your Thing

by Adam Riske
Sometimes you just have to hit the re-set button.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is my favorite concert movie. That’s saying a lot in a world where Jonathan Demme’s sublime Stop Making Sense exists. While both films are essential from a musical perspective, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party contains some interesting subtext that takes it to another level. It’s a portrait of a man who reacted to his escalating stardom by saying STOP and using his art to give a few thousand people a random act of kindness that they will likely never forget. Dave’s Chappelle’s Block Party is an act of love and inclusion, one that was just as important to the soul of its creator as it was his audience.

At the time of the concert depicted in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, the comedian had become a victim of his own success -- success that eventually led to Chappelle walking away from his show and a $50M contract from Comedy Central. He didn’t like the direction things were going and the urge to throw this block party almost seems (to me) like an apology for what he was becoming which is infamous, an icon, something bigger than just a man doing comedy.
Chappelle seems determined in the documentary to just be able to blend into the crowd and let the artists and his friends shine even more than he. In short, he needed to hit the re-set button on his professional and creative life and the block party was a vehicle in which to do that. Like the Broken Angel house shown in the movie, Chappelle is trying to put himself back together again into something more graceful. The most gratifying moment of the entire movie comes near the end when Chappelle says that throwing the block party was “the best single day of my career.” He’s made a first step in a new, better direction for himself. This is a movie where you feel your heart growing as you watch it.

The concert sequences are like mainlining joy. It’s a perfect depiction of how music can take away all of your worries and send you soaring if just for a few minutes. My favorite musical sequences are the ones with Kanye West (back when he could give you chills that weren’t douche related) and the amazing Erykah Badu, whose music is like being shot into a groove that you don’t ever want to get out of. (Maybe it’s just me….I dunno…your mileage may vary. It helps if you love hip-hop and R&B as much as I do but I don’t think you need to be a fan of that music in order to like this movie.)
Additionally, the documentary is just a great hang-out movie with some supremely talented musicians and comedians. Chappelle observantly points out that the block party is awarding the performers a rare opportunity – one of a “third dimension,” where they’re comfortable enough to share something beyond their public perception. It’s also the best movie I’ve ever seen about the harmony between music and comedy. I used to perform musical improv in Chicago and that form is the happiest I’ve ever been performing on stage for an audience. There’s nothing like letting a piano take over and letting yourself get out of your own head of what’s funny (and what will work for an audience) and just get into doing your own thing. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is all about doing your own thing and that’s why the whole movie feels so loose and spontaneous.

I can identify with Dave Chappelle strongly in one key way. He loves his audience in Block Party and, if nothing else, is just excited to share something cool with them. I feel the exact same way about every reader, contributor and listener of F This Movie! I’m so damn lucky to be a part of this site and be able to chat with all of you every week. Between F This Movie Fest, Junesploitation and Scary Movie Month, it’s like we have three block parties a year and that’s magical. Thank you all for that from the bottom of my heart for letting my doing my thing.


  1. Watched this opening night and loved it but I've never revisited it. Almost hard to believe it's been 10 years since this came out. Hell, it's been over 20 now since the first time I saw Chappelle in the 1995 Young Comedians special my brother taped off HBO (also my first time seeing Dave Attell, Louis C.K., and Anthony Clark).

    I really need to get some people together and put this movie on at some point. It's just amazingly positive.

  2. I got to see this film in a theater and it was a warm audience...almost as fun as being there! Chappelle has always been one of my favorite comedians and I also love the way he rifts and improvs (my brother saw a live show in San Francisco and after a full comedy set he was joined by Mos Def and they sat down and shot the breeze for over two hours!)
    Not sure if you have ever been down the "Chappelle Theory" rabbit hole but it is fascinating! It looks like the original website that broke down the "theory" has gone offline but you can still find references of this amazing conspiracy theory (charges that the "Black Entertainment Elite" led by Bill Cosby no less(!), threatened and bullied him to the breaking point of canceling his contract!)...
    If so inclined I encourage you to look up this baffling piece of internet ephemera! Great review!

  3. It's a great movie Adam. I also am very grateful of F this movie. I know it's fanbase grows everyday but it still feels intimate like we're all one big movie family. Thanks to everyone to contributes to the site and lets keep the movie love going for years to come!!