The Real Reason Dave Chappelle Walked Away From 'Chappelle's Show'

Dave Chappelle is widely considered one of the greatest comedians of all time. Bold, brash, and unapologetic in his ways (which are perhaps hurting him in recent months), the comic is best known for his controversial opinions and well-timed delivery. On top of that, Chappelle made a name for himself through his iconic impersonations. From an overly-satirized Lil Jon to the basketball-playing Prince, Chappelle rose to prominence with his outlandish personas on Comedy Central's "Chappelle's Show" in 2003.

It was a time where Comedy Central was truly booming. With shows like "South Park," "Reno 911!," and "Chappelle's Show" airing concurrently, politically incorrect humor and social critiques flew freely in the no man's land that was Comedy Central back in the day. But despite such, fame always comes with a price. At the height of "Chappelle's Show's" popularity in 2005, Chappelle abruptly departed from the series and fled to South Africa to escape media attention.

Rumors of a mental breakdown and drug use quickly swirled at the time. Chappelle's publicist Matt Labov gave a standard answer, telling The New York Times, "Obviously, I'm sure there's a lot of pressure, with the expectation of the fans, and the network and the expectation of the press." While that is probably at least partially true, it would be years until Chappelle would re-emerge in the public eye, returning to touring and headlining full-time in 2013. Now, Chappelle is finally clearing the air on why he left his popular sketch comedy series, "Chappelle's Show," in 2005. Here's what he had to say.

One particular on-set incident played into Dave Chappelle leaving 'Chappelle's Show'

David Letterman didn't succeed at the art of journalism for nothing. On an episode of Netflix's "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman," the TV host featured Dave Chappelle as a guest and immediately jumped into the nitty-gritty — pondering why Chappelle left his famous Comedy Central series, "Chappelle's Show."

In the interview, Chappelle revealed that he was initially "terrified" by his snap decision to leave the show. Letterman soon drew attention to the specific scenario that led to Chappelle's departure. "When you left your show, there was an episode described ... that somebody on the crew laughed at a sketch you did, and you thought the laughter was on the wrong side of humor," Letterman recalled from his research.

Chappelle then confirmed the story. He clarified that the sketch involved him dressed as "The Black Pixie," per Fader, who, as Chappelle described, would "pop up anytime a person felt the pains of racism." The comedian maintained that "It's not a bad sketch," but he further added, "Hearing the wrong laugh while you're dressed that way, it makes you feel shame." And while his decision to leave was "really scary," the comedian stands by his gut. "You've got to face a lot of your fears. Some I faced better than others, but I was determined." The incident, however, was not the only reason why Chappelle decided to call it quits.

The price of fame was too much for Dave Chappelle

Many of us, perhaps as kids, likely envisioned ourselves as being big and famous. Whether it's a rockstar, an athlete, or any other public-facing profession, everybody has had aspirations of fame at some point. In a nightclub appearance aired on "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman," however, Dave Chappelle posed the poignant question: "Have you ever worked all your life for something and have it not work out?"

That's what seemingly happened to Chappelle, as he said in the performance when he left his famous TV show, "Chappelle's Show" in 2005. "I ... realized that I was bigger than I was comfortable with," Chappelle opined about his peak on the Netflix show. Elsewhere in the interview, Chappelle revealed in leaving the show, "I thought I ruined my career." Letterman then brought up the prospect of being replaced as top comic, to which Chappelle responded: "When the specter of making it left the room and I was just doing it ... it made me a better comedian."

Numb to the fame, Chappelle feels that he truly began conquering the art form that he's so passionate about. "The worst thing that can happen to you in your mind... is that you lose it all or you blow it. But once you face that, it's not everything," he noted. Indeed, Chappelle would rise up like a phoenix from the ashes once again and be eagerly welcomed back into the world of comedy by his loyal fans more than a decade later.