When Dave Chappelle Met Mark Twain

IMG_1348It may make one pause to look at the connection of the two main figures in “Dave Chappelle: The Mark Twain Prize” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

Taped last October at the Kennedy Center, the entertaining evening features Jon Stewart, John Legend, Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman — as well as hip hop figures from Common and Q-Tip to Erykah Badu and Mos Def.

But Twain and Chappelle? I asked him about the connection.

“It’s funny,” Chappelle said. “When I auditioned for Duke Ellington School for the Arts [in Washington, D.C.], I auditioned with a Mark Twain piece.

“It was ‘The Judges “Spirited Woman.’”’ he said. And I was terrible.”

Why that title? “I went to the public library and it looked the easiest. It was weird.”

In his audition at the prestigious arts high school, Chappelle said, they ask “a make or break question. They say, ‘Why do you want to act?’

“If you say something like, ‘I want to be a star,’ you probably won’t get it. I said, ‘I don’t want to act.’ Which took them back. I said, ‘I want to be a comedian.’ Someone said, ‘if you want to be a good comedian, you should learn how to act.’

“I don’t know the connection,” Chappelle said, “but that’s why I’m here. And more than my audition, the answer to that question was why I got in.”

And it made all the difference, he says “Duke Ellington, going there, was one of the great privileges of my life, because it was such an eye-opening experience.”

There, he says he learned “it was OK to be different and it was OK to be weird and it was OK to love people who was different from us.”

It was important to go there, “and Mark Twain is the guy I read to get in there,” Chappelle said. “So it’s ironic that this award is named after him”

An earlier report about when the event occurred can be found here.

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