‘Dave Chappelle’: longer than an article, shorter than a book

chapelle2I was surprised recently when a very smart acquaintance of mine announced that she didn’t have an e-Reader and would never get one.

The fact that the woman is a book reviewer made the statement even more startling to me. Why would you reject a technology linked to one of your favorite activities, without even giving it a try?

Thinking that the e-Reader will necessarily kill print books is about the same as the theory that VCRs and then DVD players would end moviegoing as we know it. Of course, theatrical films are thriving and Hollywood’s movie audience is bigger than ever, with people watching films on TVs, tablets, iPhones and who knows what else.

The technology of the eReader has already created a wonderful new hybrid of the book and the magazine article — the Kindle Single.

Priced for a buck or two, the new concept has already attracted major writers such as James Wolcott and Douglas Preston. It’s worth having a Kindle just to sample the growing number of Singles that are being electronically published.

The other night I read the recently released “Searching for Dave Chappelle” by New York Times arts writer Jason Zinoman, who was able to use the Kindle Single format for a very informative and very entertaining look at the career of the Comedy Central star who famously pulled the plug on his own show just after winning a $50 million contract from the cable network.

Zinoman could very well be planning a long-form book on Chappelle, but in the meantime the Kindle Single is a wonderful mix of reporting and analysis with the writer traveling around the country catching some of the stand-up shows the funnyman has been doing since he decided to adopt a lower profile.

The writer examines the career of Chappelle and the way that he combined elements of the ingratiating black humor of Bill Cosby with the more radical comedy stylings of Richard Pryor.

Zinoman also shows us the terrible challenge faced by any black comedian of having to straddle two separate audiences — white and black — and often having to be representative of his race in a way that no white comic is expected to be.

Zinoman gives us a mini-history of black humor on cable from “Def Comedy Jam” to Comedy Central, and shows how the escape from the constraints of commercial broadcast television has allowed a new generation of black comedians to flourish.

Joe Meyers