This much we knew already: Dave Chappelle has been AWOL from the set of his hit Chappelle's Show, forcing Comedy Central to shut down production indefinitely on the sketch comedy's third season.
Now, we may know why. According to a report in the latest Newsweek, too much partying, too much pressure and a creative rift with the cable network's brain trust are to blame.
Sources confirmed to E! last week that Chappelle had been staying away from work. Comedy Central in turn said the show wouldn't make its May 31 third season debut--a season earlier postponed by what was variously described as Chappelle's bout with a flu-like illness and/or his inability to enough write enough episodes to make the original February debut date.
Newsweek quotes friends of the comic actor, saying he "freaked" and didn't know how to deal with the breakout success of Chappelle's Show, which seemingly overnight went from cult hit to pop-culture phenomenon. As ratings for the show took off and the first season became the all-time best-selling TV series on DVD, Comedy Central signed Chappelle to a $50 million contract last summer for two more years.
"I saw him start trippin' when the buzz started to get real loud," one unnamed friend tells Newsweek. "I think he was in shock after the first season. Then during the second season, it hit him that he was the Man. That freaked him."
"And then came the pressure of living up to expectations for the third season. He's never been there--where something's so good and you got to come even stronger the next time. It was too much."
The Half-Baked star's penchant for partying was also cited for his recent meltdown.
"Everyone knows Dave likes to have fun," a person only identified as a "music-inustry pal" tells Newsweek. "I wouldn't say it's out of control...but at some point that has to affect you if you've got a regular gig."
Chappelle's publicist, Matt Labov, has declined to comment on the star's absence, referring all calls to Comedy Central. The network has only said that show is on hiatus and "all parties are optimistic that production will resume in the near future."
In Newsweek, Labov denies Chappelle has a drug problem. Instead, the magazine quotes "a source close to Chappelle" suggesting that the reason behind the delay has more to do with the funnyman's attempts at edgier material.
The magazine points to one such skit titled "The N----r Pixie." It features Chappelle in full minstrel regalia--black face with white painted lips, white gloves, a red vest, a black cane and a Pullman Porter cap--playing a devil-on-the-shoulder figure who serves as the conscience of famous black men such as Tiger Woods and even Chappelle himself.
"Dave is not compromising what he wants to do," the source in the Chappelle camp says in Newsweek. "He's waited a long time for this chance, and he's not trying to do anything that isn't 100 percent his vision."
Chappelle's Show hit the stratosphere largely thanks to its racial humor and Chappelle's send-ups of Rick James ("I'm Rick James, bitch!"
and dreadlocked rapper Lil John, who speaks in the same limited vocabulary the rapper uses in Usher's "Yeah!"--namely "yeah," "okay" and "what!"
Fans jonesing for more Chappelle won't have to wait too much longer. Comedy Central and corporate parent Viacom are hoping to plug the Chappelle gap with the upcoming release of his show's second-season DVD, due in stores May 24.