As if interrupting your boss during an important meeting isn’t awkward enough, imagine having to be the one to tell Comedy Central executives that Dave Chappelle, the network’s biggest star, “is gone” — as in, isn’t coming to work ever again.
That’s exactly what happened to comedian John Mulaney, who reveals in an interview for Netflix’s comedy YouTube channel Netflix Is A Joke that as an assistant at the network, he’s the one who answered the phone call where it was explained that Chappelle “went missing.”
Chappelle, who has since made a comeback on Netflix, famously fled for South Africa in 2005 in the middle of season 3 of his lauded comedy sketch series, Chappelle’s Show. At the time, it made headlines everywhere and created a bit of a problem for Comedy Central.
“They were like ‘you have to interrupt the meeting and tell them’,” he says about the person on the phone, referring to network executives who were behind closed doors. “I was like ‘Okay.’ So I went in and was like ‘So, Dave Chappelle’s gone.'”
Like the boy who cried wolf fable, the network heads didn’t entirely believe Mulaney at first. Because yes, Chappelle wasn’t at work yet, but he’d done this before, Mulaney explains. Chappelle would often be three or four hours late, so this was just another day at the office. But Mulaney, who was the temporary assistant to the then-head of development, knew this time was just a little bit different. When execs asked if this was a “health and safety issue,” the person on the phone confirmed just as much.
“They wanted to get season 3 of Chappelle. The tapes from production. They were going to put me on a plane that day and send me to L.A. to get physical tapes so they couldn’t be destroyed and fly back to New York with them,” Mulaney continues.
Chappelle, as we later learned, left his own show because he had a ‘crisis of consciousness’.
The phone call crisis luckily didn’t scar Mulaney too much. He has gone on to have a lauded stand-up comedy career of his own; in addition to his Netflix specials The Comeback Kid and Kid Gorgeous, his first variety special John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch is currently available on the streaming service alongside Chappelle’s new work.