You would have to be crazy to walk away from $50 million.
When Dave Chappelle walked away from $50 million that’s what people called him. They said he was addicted to drugs. Or he was having a spiritual breakdown.
The truth is much more interesting.
After the second season of the wildly popular Chappelle’s Show, one of the funniest, smartest TV shows of all time, Chappelle signed a deal with Comedy Central to pay him $50 million for the next two seasons.
Midway through shooting season three Chappelle had enough and left the show, escaping to Africa.
According to Time Magazine, one skit broke the comedian.
Chappelle’s Show tackled race in a smart, biting way. But when filming a skit about racial stereotypes one white spectator laughed in a way that made Chappelle wonder if he had gone from parodying stereotypes to reinforcing them.
That realization, combined with the trappings of fame, made Chappelle quit.
Months later Chappelle told Oprah, “I don’t want the money, I don’t want the drama.”
“I felt in a lot of instances I was deliberately being put through stress because when you’re a guy who generates money, people have a vested interest in controlling you.”
After that interview Chappelle avoided the spotlight and spent time at his farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
“Turns out you don’t need $50 million to live around these parts, just a nice smile and a kind way about you. You guys are the best neighbours ever. … That’s why I came back and that’s why I’m staying.”
Chappelle did the odd stand-up show, but largely rejected the fame he created for himself.
In 2014, Chappelle told People Magazine it was a move he had to make—for himself and his family.
“I never stopped being on stage… That kind of attention wouldn’t have been conducive to raising a family.”
In 2014 he told David Letterman there’s more to life than money.
“When I see a guy who goes to a job that’s time consuming and he doesn’t have free time to do things I get to do, then I feel good about [leaving the show]. . . Money is the fuel for choices. Money gives me choices. It’s not nothing. It’s something . . . there are other things in my life that I do not purchase with money that are very valuable.