"That was the best, man," recalls Chappelle, who has since appeared in more than a dozen films. "That was pretty intense, just to spend any kind of time with him." Brooks impressed Chappelle not only for his films, but for the comedians he cast in them. "He worked with Richard Pryor and kind of found Richard Pryor in a way."
Chappelle, who will appear Friday at the Allen Theatre, has himself been compared to Pryor because of his uncanny ability to poke fun at race relations, making white people the butt of jokes that white people think are hilarious. "I think you can say pretty much anything, as long as there's nothing malicious behind it," Chappelle explains. "Some guys, they can say real nice things, but you feel the malice underneath it."
In 1998, Chappelle gained notoriety by applying the same style of humor to pot culture when he wrote, co-produced, and starred in Half Baked, a film that was a break from his stand-up, depicting a world where weed -- not race -- was the only issue.
"You think about all the different subcultures in America," Chappelle says. "That whole pot subculture is pretty integrated, man. That's one of the appeals of it."
His next major film project -- which he is developing with Universal -- is a tad more serious. In King of the Park, Chappelle will recount the life story of one of his mentors, New York City street performer Charlie Barnett, a comedian he hooked up with after moving to the Big Apple when he was 18.
"A lot of people wouldn't get his significance," Chappelle says of Barnett, whose only film roles were alongside Mr. T in D.C. Cab and as himself in Mondo New York. "When you think about the context he came up in, for many there was just Eddie Murphy." But Barnett was able to rise from the comedy underground in the '80s. "He was making noise. I think he's really under-recognized."
Barnett, who eventually succumbed to AIDS, urged Chappelle to try comedy in Washington Square Park. "Once you've been outside, there's nothing indoors that's as extreme as that," he recalls. "I don't think I've ever seen a better performer."
Chappelle still works primarily on the New York City circuit -- when he's not making movies in Los Angeles -- but he lives in southwestern Ohio. "It's good to have somewhere to go," he explains. "Even Superman had his Fortress of Solitude. No one can be in Metropolis all the time."