We non-celebrities are thoroughly familiar with the Hollywood work ethic, which is: Keep pushing your shtick, beyond the point where everyone tires of you and you're even boring yourself. So most of us naturally assume the worst of the brilliantly profane Dave Chappelle, who in late April left the taping of the newest season of his Comedy Central skit show and didn't come back. Unconfirmed explanations were as follows: drug addiction; fatal disease; complete mental kablooey; or the publicist's favorite contagion, "exhaustion." It had to be a tragic explanation, because it was unthinkable that a star could quit while he's hot. Why would a celebrity entertain the same take-this-job-and-shove-it fantasy as those of us in cubicleville?
A few weeks later, Time tracked Chappelle down in South Africa, and he spoke for an hour and a half, denying rumors of drugs or breakdown. What happened was either genius spin or (the version I prefer) the beginnings of an anti-celebrity manifesto. "If you don't have the right people around you and you're moving at a million miles an hour you can lose yourself," Chappelle said in the interview in Time's online edition. "Everyone around me says, 'You're a genius!'; 'You're great!'; 'That's your voice!' But I'm not sure that they're right . . . [Other stars] always said that fame didn't change them but that it changes the people around them. You always hear that but you never really understand it. But now that I'm there that makes a lot of sense."
Careful Time readers may wonder why Chappelle's apparent spiritual guru, in a white tunic, hovered nearby. "I don't normally talk about my religion publicly because I don't want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing," Chappelle said. (Chappelle is a practicing Muslim.)
"Coming here I don't have the distractions of fame. It quiets the ego down . . . I want to be well balanced. I've got to check my intentions, man."
Ah, those unchecked intentions. Is this where celebrities go wrong -- not checking their intentions? Chappelle is on a serious chill. He's playing it marvelously, and who among us cannot wait for his self-help book?