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Friday, February 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Comedy Preview

Where's Dave Chappelle now? On his way here!

Seattle Times music critic

The hottest story in show business is about to land in Seattle.

Dave Chappelle, the controversial comedian who walked away from his popular Comedy Central TV program last April and has yet to return, opens a mini-tour of nine cities with a show at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount. The surprise tour was announced just three days ago.

Named after his new movie, "Dave Chappelle's Block Party," which opens March 3, the show will include, in addition to Chappelle, a DJ and some of the musicians who appear in the film. The movie is a documentary, directed by "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" director Michel Gondry, of a free 2004 outdoor concert Chappelle presented in Brooklyn.

The concert featured Kanye West, the Roots, Common, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Mos Def and, most importantly, a reunion of the Fugees. Which of these artists, or others, will appear here has not been announced.

Chappelle arrives here hot off his extraordinary two-hour TV interview on Bravo's "Inside the Actors Studio" last Sunday and his Feb. 3 interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

On both, he attempted to explain why he walked away from his TV series just before the premiere of its second season and turned down a $50 million offer for seasons three and four. He fled to Africa, where he spent two weeks before returning home to his farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio.

During those two weeks, various reports had him checked into a mental facility in South Africa, on crack or crazy. None of that was true, he says in the TV interviews.

Comedy/music preview


The Block Party All-Stars Featuring Dave Chappelle, 7 p.m. Sunday, Paramount Theatre, Seattle; $52.50 (sold out; 206-628-0888, www.ticketmaster.com; information: 206-467-5510, www.theparamount.com).

"I was trying to find a way to be myself," he told "Actors Studio" interviewer James Lipton. He blamed Hollywood, saying, "Maybe the environment is a little sick," but concluded, "It wasn't the fame that got to me."

Although he never really nails the exact reason, it seems to come down to control of his sketch-oriented show, especially Comedy Central's efforts to give it more "universal appeal" (i.e., adding more white characters). He points out to Lipton that he had walked away from the show twice before for that reason.

"The Dave Chappelle Show" was cutting-edge because many of its skits had to do with race. He used the n-word and satirized racial stereotypes. But far from turning off audiences, the series became a big hit.

The DVD of its first season is by far the best-selling DVD made from a TV series (he reportedly was not happy with his percentage of the DVD's profits, which also has been cited as a reason for his departure from Comedy Central, but he did not bring it up in the interviews).

Although he has not gotten back to his TV show, Chappelle has gotten back to what he loves best — stand-up comedy. He has made several appearances at comedy clubs, some of them surprise shows, but the tour that starts here Sunday is his most extensive outing since he quit TV.

"I get real happy up there on stage," he told Lipton. "I feel like myself. All these smiles around you — it's a love fest. It's the best feeling. I love stand-up."

There's little question the tour will be a smash. Its success will put him in an even better bargaining position with Comedy Central, which desperately wants him back.

The cable network is dangling that $50 million, and probably more, to entice him. The network knows that all the publicity would make his show, which last aired in May 2004, bigger than ever.

In the Bravo interview, Chappelle, 32, shows himself to be smart, articulate (both his parents are highly accomplished academics) and proud of his efforts to make race a topic of conversation in this country.

"America needs an honest discourse with itself," he says at the show's conclusion. "The truth is permanent, and everything else falls by the wayside."

Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or pmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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