Dave Chappelle was honored Sunday (Oct. 27) at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and presented with the Mark Twain Award for American Humor. Among those in attendance, Chance the Rapper, John Legend, Common, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Hart and Jon Stewart came to pay tribute to the veteran comedian.
Chappelle, in typical Chappelle fashion, walked onstage to receive his award and standing ovation with a lit cigarette in hand.
“I want everyone in America to look at me smoking indoors,” he joked with the crowd. “I didn’t ask anybody. What are they going to do? Kick me out? This is called leverage!”
The Grio reports that Common praised Chappelle for being a thought leader in realms that extend beyond his comedy.
“He’s a beacon for a lot of different progressive thought,” Common said. “He’s always been a leader in thought and culture. He says provocative things and I respect that. He brings uncomfortable things up and now we have to discuss it. I think he’s one of the greatest, not just entertainers, but the greatest minds we have in this day and age.”
Although an instant hit, the 46-year-old comedian walked away from “Chappelle’s Show” while it was preparing to enter its third season. Despite the show’s profitability, Chappelle later explained that the pressure from the show’s success and overbearing network influence challenged his integrity.
“For someone to say, ‘I’m stepping away from this because it just doesn’t feel right in my soul,’ not a lot of people think like that,” Common added.
Former “The Daily Show” host and comedy tour mate Jon Stewart also championed Chappelle’s decision, saying that he applauded “the courage that it takes as a performer or an artist to stand for who you know you are — to take a chance on yourself.”
Another fellow comedian, Michael Che from “Saturday Night Live,” called Chappelle, “the entertainment equivalent of what they call a five-tool player in baseball. He can perform, he can write, he can do characters. That’s why his fanbase is so wide.”
The ceremony also marked a homecoming for Chappelle, who was born in Maryland and attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.
“Going there was one of the great privileges of my life,” he said. “D.C. in the ’80s was turbulent and I met a bunch of young black artists who taught me it was ok to be different. It was ok to be weird.”
John Legend, who previously worked with Chappelle in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, called the comedian “a gifted curator who blends different worlds seamlessly.”
“That’s why you see so many musicians coming to this stage to pay tribute,” he said.
Wrapping up his acceptance, Chappelle remembered the Mark Twain Award’s previous recipients, including Richard Pryor and George Carlin.
“To be on a list with Richard Pryor is just unfathomable to me,” Chappelle said. “The shoulders that I stand on are all here on this list.”
Most recently, Chappelle released his two-part Netflix special, Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones.
The ceremony will be broadcast on Jan. 7, 2020 on PBS.