David Chappelle is one of the most accomplished comedians of his generation--or any, for that matter. He's won Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, and even The Mark Twain Prize, an award that puts him in rare company. It can be easy to think that people with that resume of achievement have everything going for them. For Chappelle, however, that hasn't always been the case.
In a video shared on Instagram (warning, it's full of exactly the language you might expect from David Chappelle), the comedian talked about the contract he signed with Comedy Central when he was a "broke 28-year-old expectant father," saying "I was desperate, I needed a way out." It goes on to explain why he asked Netflix to stop streaming old episodes of The Chappelle Show.
It's worth the watch.
In the video, Chappelle explains how the contract meant that after he left the show, the network no longer paid him. And, when ViacomCBS, which owns Comedy Central, decided to stream the show on Netflix and HBO Max, Chappelle wasn't paid for that, or even consulted.
There's an irony that doesn't go unnoticed that HBO, which turned down Chappelle years ago, is now streaming his former work. According to Chappelle, the network wasn't willing to pay him but has no problem licensing his work in an arrangement that pays the network, but not the comedian.
Everything ViacomCBS is doing is "perfectly legal because I signed the contract," Chappelle said in the video. "But is that right? I didn't think so either."
As he describes it, Chappelle called Netflix and asked them to stop streaming the show. The streaming service has hosted several of Chappelle's comedy specials over the years, several of which led to those aforementioned awards. As he explains it, Netflix agreed, simply because it was the right thing to do.
Specifically, Chappelle says he appreciates the company because "they paid me my money, they do what they say they're going to do, and they went above and beyond what you could expect from a businessman. They did something just because they thought that I might think that they were wrong."
That's a valuable lesson, and it reflects on the importance of relationships. Sure, business is business. No one can argue that ViacomCBS isn't just doing what it is in its own best interests while following a contract, but that isn't necessarily the best standard by which we should measure whether something is right.
Netflix, on the other hand, would have been completely within its rights to tell Chappelle that it paid money for the rights to stream the show and planned to do just that. It didn't. It valued its relationship with Chappelle more than whatever it might have gained in value to the platform by having The Chappelle Show.
That's extraordinary mostly because it's rare, both in Hollywood and in business. Still, building relationships, even in business, doesn't have to be complicated or difficult. It just means doing the right thing.