There are moments in time when you find yourself witnessing something so strange, but so monumental, that anytime you are reminded of it, it pulls you back into the state where you first experienced it. And one of those moments for me was hearing “I’m Rick James.”
Chappelle’s Show was amazing, partially because Dave Chappelle is a hilarious comedian, and partially because he walked away after two seasons, giving up millions of dollars, but saving us the inevitable decline in quality. The comedy was usually poignant, socially aware, and funny as hell. He invented Clayton Bigsby, the black White Supremacist. He got the Wu Tang Clan to open an investment bank. He created the show Trading Spouses. That one’s not even a joke, that became a show after Chappelle did the sketch. Oh, and he made Wayne Brady look less like Bryant Gumbel and more like Malcolm X. All of these moments would not have worked on any other show and, if not done as well as Chappelle did them, would have accomplished the opposite of what Chappelle hoped.
In 2004, when this episode aired, internet video was still in its infancy. If you wanted to steal a song, that was now possible, but pirating movies would take you a month. Streaming was barely off the ground. YouTube didn’t even exist yet. However, the short clips from this episode, containing some of the iconic phrases within it, managed to be the exact length that people could host on their own web pages, allowing this to be one of the first videos to truly go viral. To put in perspective, YouTube’s founders had difficulty finding the SuperBowl Halftime video of Janet Jackson, leading them to decide to create a video hosting site. This was 10 days later, and the clips from this episode were hosted an estimated 1 million times that year. It was just the right thing of the right size at the right time to cement viral video. So, that’s a big cultural contribution right there. But, in addition to that, this episode is also freaking hilarious.
There are a total of two real sketches in this episode. The first is the “Love Contract,” which is funny, because hey, it’s a contract to avoid sex scandals and also to preserve your reputation when your lovin’ just ain’t up to par. That’s pretty amusing.
The second, however, is “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.” Charlie Murphy is Eddie Murphy’s brother, and, supposedly, has been witness to some truly hilarious Hollywood events. One involved the late, great, Prince beating him mercilessly at basketball. This one was never verified. The other was this episode, depicting multiple interactions between the Murphy brothers, mostly Charlie, and legendary, also deceased, superfreak Rick James.
This one is about as confirmed as it gets, because Rick James himself agreed to appear in the episode. He also appeared to have been high while filming his parts of the episode. Or perhaps after his years of substance abuse, some level of buzzed was just his default state. Whatever the reason, it made the show all the better to see Rick James’s reactions to his own past.
So, the stories are basically about times when Rick James (played by Dave Chappelle) would do something crazy, like come over and wreck Eddie Murphy’s couch, and then Eddie and Charlie Murphy would beat the crap out of him in retaliation. Then, usually, Rick James would realize he’d gone too far and apologize, at least once by convincing several women to have sex with Charlie Murphy. When asked why he did these things, the real Rick James could only deliver the singular truth, “cocaine is a hell of a drug.”
Part of the beauty of this episode is that, by intercutting Dave Chappelle playing Rick James with the real Rick James, it really sells that all the over-the-top crazy that Dave throws down is true, even if much of it was comically exaggerated. It manages to present the old adage, that truth is stranger than fiction.
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The whole episode is on Comedy Central if you have a provider that lets you watch it, or here are some parts: