Chappelle says he's on ''spiritual retreat.'' Speaking out for the first time, he tells Time he was stressed out and unhappy with the direction his show was taking
Dave Chappelle
Credit: Dave Chappelle: Mark Mann / Retna

”I’m not crazy. I’m not smoking crack,” Dave Chappelle said. ”I’m definitely stressed out.” Talking to Time magazine, in his first interview since his disappearance led to the sudden yanking two weeks ago of the Season 3 premiere of his Comedy Central show, Chappelle said he was staying in Durban, South Africa, with his friend Salim Domar, a fellow Muslim, for what he calls a ”spiritual retreat.” Contrary to Entertainment Weekly’s report last week, he says he has not checked himself into a mental health facility, though he acknowledges spending a single 40-minute session with a psychiatrist.

Chappelle did confirm, as has widely been speculated, that he was having a hard time living up to the pressures of his own fame, specifically, the pressure of making the third season of Chappelle’s Show measure up to the standards of the first two seasons, whose popularity on Comedy Central and in DVD sales led the network to sign him to a $50 million contract extension last summer. ”I didn’t like the direction of the show,” Chappelle said. ”I was trying to explain it to people, and no one was feeling me. There’s a lot of resistance to my opinions, so I decided, Let me remove myself from this situation. You hear so many voices jockeying for position in your mind that you want to make sure that you hear your own voice. So I figured, Let me just cut myself off from everybody, take a minute and pull a Flintstone — stop a speeding car by using my bare feet as the brakes.”

Chappelle had already pulled a Flintstone over the winter. No longer certain whether his famously racially edgy material was exploding stereotypes or merely reinforcing them, he took a break in December by attempting to perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all Muslims, but he got only as far as Turkey because he didn’t have a visa to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Comedy Central postponed the season premiere of Chappelle’s Show from February to May 31.

Chappelle returned and shot more sketches, and while his writing partner Neal Brennan and Comedy Central chief Doug Herzog both told Time they’re as funny as anything Chappelle has ever done, the star himself wasn’t sure. Brennan told Time that Chappelle’s indecision was paralyzing the production. ”Dave would change his sketches so much, and it just got to the point that the show never would have aired if he had his way,” Brennan said. By the time Chappelle fled to South Africa on April 28 — telling none of his associates where he was going — he’d shot only enough sketches to fill four or five shows and none of the in-studio introductions to the sketches. Of his own responsibility for the stalled season, Chappelle said, ”I’m admittedly a human being. I’m a difficult kind of dude.”

Herzog has told advertisers that it’s unlikely Season 3 will air in 2005, but he told Time he’s still eager for Chappelle to return and complete the season. Chappelle said he also hopes to resume production when he retuns to the U.S., though he didn’t say when that would be. He also said he’s been getting advice from other black entertainers, citing one performer who notoriously dropped out of sight when she achieved mammoth success and then hit a creative wall: Lauryn Hill. ”She told me to be truthful at all costs. Which is a tall order, but which was really good advice,” he said. ”I want to make sure I’m dancing and not shuffling. Whatever decisions I make right now I’m going to have live with. Your soul is priceless.” Seasons 1 and 2 ”had a real spirit to them,” he said. ”I want to make sure whatever I do has spirit.”