Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writing Comedy for Dave Chappelle

At a Roman airport 5 years ago, my friend Anne leaned against the ticket counter. She was on her honeymoon. While her partner engaged the clerk, she turned around and Dave Chappelle was looking at her. Like someone waving to you in a crowd, she checked her immediate surroundings for a friendlier face. There was nobody – he was looking at her. Chappelle and Anne were the only two black people in the airport – of course he was looking at her.

Chappelle sauntered over and said hello. It took Anne a few seconds to gain her wits. She blushed and acknowledged that he was indeed Dave Chappelle. After she regained control, they talked about what strangers talk about in Rome: traffic, smog and the Colisseum.

When showing pictures of her trip, she saved the best photo for last. Upstaging the previous pictures of European history, Anne and Chappelle stood side by side - Anne sporting an animated smile and Chappelle donning his patented smirk.

Anne told me this story a little over 5 years ago. Simple story. Memorable only because of Chappelle.

Last week a friend was at a comedy club in LA. While watching a mutual friend perform stand-up, Chappelle walked on stage. This made me think of Anne’s story.

A few days later I talked to Anne about Chappelle. She told me the story again and I was flabbergasted. This is how I remembered it:

While standing in line at the ticket counter in a Roman airport, a man approached Anne from behind. He leaned in and whispered, “If anything goes down, let’s stick together.” She turned and it was Dave Chappelle. Small talk ensued.

Since starting this blog, I’ve been fascinated with my memory – what I remember, what I distort and what I forget. I’m starting to believe that “what I distort” is winning the memory race.

Unlike other false memories, I believe I know why I changed her story and what made me do it.

Without adding “If anything goes down, let’s stick together,” it’s only memorable because of Chappelle - Anne meets Chappelle in an airport. That’s it. What I remembered was that they were the only two black people in the airport (she didn’t mention this fact the second time she told the story). I inserted myself in Chappelle’s shoes, saying what I thought he should’ve said to Anne, based upon being in a room full of whitey.


That’s how I think my brain remembers. It erases the mundane and fills it in with fantasy. I perpetuate fantasy through stories (written and verbal) and it eventually becomes truth.

Be careful what you tell me, but most people already know this.

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