When Dave Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live last month, the comedian made it very clear that he wasn’t happy with the contracts he originally signed for his iconic Comedy Central series, Chappelle’s Show. These contracts made it so that ViacomCBS could allow streaming services such as Netflix and HBO Max to air his show, without Chappelle receiving any compensation. After Chappelle made it clear he wasn’t happy with his show streaming, Netflix honored his request and took the series off their service, and at the end of the year, HBO Max will now be doing the same.
While talking to Variety during their Virtual FYCFest, Casey Bloys, the chief content officer for HBO and HBO Max, said that Chappelle’s Show would be taken off their streaming service at the end of 2020. Bloys said “We had a conversation with Dave. I won’t get into it, but it’s very clear that it’s a very unique and specific emotional issue he’s got.” Once Netflix decided to take down Chappelle’s Show, Dave Chappelle took to his Instagram and praised the streaming service during one of his stand-up sets.
In 2005, Dave Chappelle originally had signed a deal with Comedy Central to film Seasons 3 and 4 of Chappelle’s Show. Chappelle walked away from the deal and largely away from the entertainment industry for almost a decade, moving him and his family to Ohio. In 2013, Chappelle would return to touring as a stand-up, taking part in the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity festival, co-headlined with Flight of the Conchords. A year later, Chappelle would perform ten nights at Radio City Music Hall.
A week after Dave Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live the weekend Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016 – which earned Chappelle an Emmy – Netflix signed a deal with Chappelle to release three new stand-up specials from the comedian. This arrangement earned Chappelle $20 million per special for three specials, a deal which was expanded for a fourth special. Since then, Chappelle has released Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones in 2019, and 8:46 in June of this year, although it’s unclear if these also fall into the $20 million per special deal.
In the aforementioned video Dave Chappelle posted on his Instagram, he discussed why he works with Netflix, “Because they pay me my money, they do what they say they’re gonna do.” Chappelle continued, “They went above and beyond what you could expect from a businessman.” Even though Chappelle points out that they legally have the right to air Chappelle’s Show due to these contracts, Chappelle also stated he didn’t believe airing them without compensating him was right either.
Through his deal with Netflix, Dave Chappelle has already made far more money than he ever did with Chappelle’s Show, and Netflix has said that Chappelle’s stand-up specials are amongst their most-watched comedy specials ever. This is a mutually beneficial agreement for both Netflix and Chappelle, which makes sense why the streaming giant would want to make sure Chappelle stayed happy with their arrangement. After seeing how Chappelle could get his audience to boycott streaming services if they continued to air Chappelle’s Show, it seems that HBO Max made the smart choice to try and appease Chappelle’s fans.
Yet while Netflix taking down Chappelle’s Show makes sense, HBO Max pulling the show on December 31st is a bit unexpected. Warner Bros. recently announced films like Dune and The Matrix 4 would be released on HBO Max the same day they come to theaters, without telling the filmmakers themselves, much to their dismay. It’s curious that HBO Max would have such flagrant disregard for these filmmakers, while trying to give Dave Chappelle what he wants in regards to contracts signed over a decade and a half ago. While Chappelle’s victory is a strong standard to set in that it gives more power to the artists, it’s strange that HBO Max also didn’t give much consideration to its filmmakers over their releases in the upcoming year.
Dave Chappelle has been more than vocal about how troubling he finds show business, how easily they can take someone’s work without doing the right thing, or paying due compensation. It’s fascinating that not only has Chappelle acknowledged he doesn’t have any legal right to ask for these streaming services to take down his show but that places like Netflix and HBO Max are actually listening to Chappelle and giving him what he wants. Even though major studios and companies have the power, Chappelle is showing that keeping the artist happy is also quite important in the long scheme of things.