"I'm Rick James, bitch." You know comedy's working if you can hear a line like that close to 43 times and still not be sick of it. Dave Chappelle's second season is one for the ages - it's John Belushi in Animal House, Eddie Murphy's "Mister Robinson" on Saturday Night Live and Chris Rock's stand-up -- all rolled into one 13-episode season.
Nobody knows for sure what's going on with Chappelle - last we heard, he was still in South Africa. Time magazine says he's not doing rehab but that he placed himself in self-imposed exile to clear his head and get some rest. It goes without saying that Chappelle's comedy doesn't even seem like work - it goes beyond sight gags, mimicry, stereotypes and f-bombs to something almost transcendent. His lanky, elastic form morphs from dead-on impersonations of Rick James and Prince to twitchy crackhead Tyrone and an assortment of "whitey" characters ranging from a quiz show host to President Bush; he seems constantly on the edge of cracking himself up in sketches involving himself at ages 18, 24 and 30 and as the "colored milkman" of the white Niggar family.
Chappelle has help on the show: In addition to having some crackerjack writers, highlights on the three-disc set include Eddie Murphy's brother Charlie's "True Hollywood Stories," a sketch in which Chappelle and John Mayer investigate the belief that white people can't dance and Snoop Dogg offers assistance on the grossest puppet sketch ever made.
Two of the funniest bits are also the most simple. There's Samuel Jackson beer - with Chappelle all Jheri-curled and dressed like Samuel Adams shouting at a bunch of white business lunchers. And of course, Li'l Jon, whose three favorite verbal expressions are "HWWHAAAT?" "YEAHHH!" and "OHHKAYY!" I can't even explain what's so funny about it - anyone else doing it would be annoying, but Chappelle's timing and self-amusement make it irresistible.
But even watching all this can be exhausting - Chappelle's manic energy and intelligent satire makes your brain work even while you're laughing. I don't think his running off to South Africa is a publicity stunt so much as that being funny -- this funny -- is an enormous and draining pressure. Dave, get your rest, clear your head, and when you're ready, please, please come back and do Season Three.