The news: The infamous "Rick James" sketch from Chappelle’s Show turned 10 this week, marking the decade anniversary of creator Dave Chappelle’s rapid ascent to comedy superstardom.
The iconic episode also became one of the first viral moments in social media history. Facebook was just weeks old at the time, and fans were so taken with the "true story" of Charlie Murphy's increasingly bizarre encounters with pop star Rick James that they made it an online phenomenon, spreading its highlights across the internet however they could: MySpace, AIM, Black Planet, you name it. "I'm Rick James, bitch!" became the catchphrase of a generation.
But for Dave Chappelle, it was the beginning of the end. Chappelle’s Show ran for two legendary seasons from 2003-2004 before its creator and star walked away in disgust. The comedian explained his departure on various talk shows in the following years, citing his unhappiness with the lonesome trappings of fame and success. "I like people," he said in an interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors’ Studio. "I like entertaining. And the higher up I go, for some reason, the less happy I get." It was a huge loss for fans, and an important sanity check for Chappelle.
A key turning point was a standup performance at Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium in June 2004. Crowd members repeatedly interrupted the show by shouting "Rick James" quotes at the comedian, to the point where Chappelle had to say something:
"The show is ruining my life," he told them. "This (stand-up) is the most important thing I do, and because I'm on TV, you make it hard for me to do it… People can't distinguish between what's real and fake. This ain't a TV show. You're not watching Comedy Central. I'm real up here talking."
At one point, Chappelle walked off stage for two full minutes. When he returned, he told the crowd, "You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are. Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid."
Well damn. As great as the Rick James episode was, and as fondly as we'll remember moments like Rick punching Charlie so hard that his ring inscription is imprinted on Charlie's forehead for days, it's disheartening to see how negatively the fame it brought impacted its creator. Thankfully, Chappelle was able to walk away before his unhappiness became a truly destructive problem. And we'll always appreciate the indelible moments he gave us to enjoy.