It takes the musicians who croon the opening theme to Chappelle’s Show only a few seconds to notice the comedian’s absence: ”I don’t think he’s coming,” says one, and indeed, when his introduction arrives, Dave Chappelle continues to be MIA. It’s a breezy gag to address what most people know by now: After a much-hyped $50 million, two-season deal, Chappelle pulled the plug on a third round of his stunning, sharp, often surreal sketch series, and headed to Africa instead. (This came as a shock at the time, but hints of burnout can be spotted on the second-season DVD, from the bit in which Chappelle announces that he’s, you know, burned-out — only to be replaced by Wayne Brady — and in a commentary track in which he states wearily that he’ll never win an Emmy and adds, ”In the words of Ghostface Killah, ‘F— the whole industry.”’)
You can hardly blame Comedy Central for piecing together three shows from the 75 minutes of material Chappelle taped before he left the building. The result is good, but not great — short on both the incendiary observations the series was known for as well as its inherent charm. Part of the joy of Chappelle’s Show was the comedian’s easy interplay with the audience during the wraparound segments — like when his blackfaced WB frog elicited groans and he quickly retorted with an Al Jolsonesque react, pointing out the mascot as ”the most racist s— ever.” On the bright side, Chappelle surrounded himself with talented comedians, and this go-around hosting duties fall to regulars Donnell Rawlings and Charlie Murphy. The duo have a funny bit in which they ask co-creator Neal Brennan where Chappelle is, and he answers them with a chipper ”Africa!” — as if the whole situation were really neato. But Rawlings and Murphy definitely seem self-conscious, and the latter’s presence is a sad reminder that we’ll have no more of the gut-funny ”Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.”
What we do have is a very goofy, light bit about how Tupac Shakur was way ahead of his time, as well as several sketches addressing Chappelle’s massive payday — one an elaborate revenge fantasy that has trouble ending (a rarity for Chappelle’s sketches, which, long or short, tended to be perfectly timed, even season 1’s brilliant ”black white supremacist,” which ran for almost an entire episode). The funnier skit offers a glimpse of the worries that may have ultimately led Chappelle to drop out: ”You didn’t have to do two more seasons,” a dying man whispers to him. ”No matter how good the show is, they’re only gonna say it’s not as good as last year was…” As it stands now, that may be true, but Chappelle’s comedy leftovers are still pretty satisfying.