I never really got the whole Dave Chappelle thing. During the height of the frenzy, when he was selling skizillions of DVDs, I watched a few episodes, but it never really stuck with me the way that other sketch comedy has. Given the fact that plenty of people whose taste I respect like him, I’m perfectly willing to say that is a defect on my part. Just add it to the list.
However, I found his whole abandonment of his megastardom fascinating, and a bit refreshing. It seemed to be part and parcel of whatever anger fueled his comedy in the first place, and it actually made him more interesting to me.
Of course, what’s “interesting” to me was a goddamn nightmare for Comedy Central, who have plenty of experience dealing with badly-behaving geniuses (Matt and Trey!), but probably never had to deal with someone who just left all of the money on the table.
So, from the footage that had already been shot, they cobbled together what will forever be known as the “Lost Episodes” — in essence, bootleg versions of his show. Sure fully legal Corporate bootlegs. But in terms of the artist’s actual input into the final finished product, bootlegs nevertheless. Much like the infamous Dylan album that Columbia crapped out in the early 1970s when he left the label for a brief time. It was the dregs of the dregs: a pure revenge move, and a way to squeeze just a few more pennies from what they no doubt considered their “Bob Dylan” brand.
Now, I have no problems with bootlegs: had the same Chappelle material mysteriously shown up on YouTube, it wouldn’t be an issue with me. I guess that I have trouble with corporations who continually fight bootlegging on the fan level — where the vast vast majority is is spurred not by the profit motive but because fans just want more stuff — doing it on the corporate level.
Obviously, Comedy Central lost a shitload of potential ad revenue (not to mention DVD sales) when Chappelle walked away; and even more obviously they own this stuff and can do whatever the hell they want with it to try to gain even a fraction of their projected revenues. But still, it always squicks me out when art are released for corporate profit in where the creators did not have the final say over the final product.
So sure, they had the legal right, but did they had the moral right? And does anybody even care if they did or not? After all, as I wrote up at the top, I’m not a fan. Fans of Dave Chappelle may be just fine with the whole thing; sometimes it doesn’t matter who provides the fix, as long as it’s provided.
Unless, of course, they think that the lost episodes suck.