Listening to Dave Chapelle on the Joe Rogan podcast was more awesome than I had even hoped. Chapelle articulates his thoughts with such clarity and precision it is amazing to follow his stream of consciousness as he enjoys a conversation with one of the best talkers in history. He is self-aware and grounded in his craft, in his identity as a comic.
There is something Shakespearean about Dave Chapelle and Joe Rogan. I realized what it is this past weekend. I was also listening to As You Like it and an Oxford University produced lecture on the play. One of the interesting things about this comedy is that it compares the countryside, specifically the forest, to the court. Chapelle was talking to Rogan about his experience having moved to Austin from Los Angeles, and the parallels couldn’t be more obvious.
Chapelle lives in Ohio. He figured out this trick of comedy a long time ago. Ohio is the Forest of Arden. Austin is too. What is most important, however, is the intention to exist in a way that fits the comedic genre. This might be easier to do in a rural setting if you didn’t need to be in a cosmopolitan metropolis to get work. With podcasting, you could theoretically achieve success from anywhere with Internet access. While most comics live in Los Angeles or New York, Chapelle and now Rogan have been preaching the virtue of living outside the pressurized bubble of the industry.
To best enjoy listening to As You Like It, you need to understand the plot and the relationship of the various characters. There are parallel happenings and characters take on different names as they disguise themselves. It can be confusing if you don’t know who the characters are. For the sake of this short essay, you only need to understand that all the main characters of the play have been banished from the court to the forest.
Rogan and Chapelle relate to each other because they are members of the tribe of comedy, but also because they have chosen to live rural lifestyles. There is a freedom in the countryside that they enjoy and that shows up in their work. Part of what the rural context provides is a lack of things happening. In that quiet space civil conversations or imaginative ramblings are given space to roam. It becomes more about dialogue and philosophical comparisons than an attempt to resolve a problem.
In the play, there are philosophical theories laid out in verse. We have the famous “all the world’s a stage” speech that outlines the seven stages of life. This has nothing to do with a plot, but that’s the point. The emptiness provided by the countryside creates the space for poetry and philosophy.
There are different metaphors available in a rural setting. Being connected to hunting, agriculture, livestock, and fundamental human resources creates a kind of competency and confidence in relation to the world. Knowing where food comes from, being close to the supply chain is a smart idea if you want to focus on making people laugh.
Podcasting itself is a Forest of Arden. In many ways, Joe Rogan left Los Angeles a long time before he moved to Austin. By creating his own show and relentlessly innovating and improving his ability to engage in interesting conversations, Rogan became one of the first great developers of this wild alternative to the culture industry. He recently described it as having made it out past the gates and he is now swimming in open waters, but he could have also described it as having escaped court to live in the country.
As You Like It shows us how a rural setting can create a space for music, philosophy and most importantly comedy. There is something about certain natural settings that proves conducive to everything working out in the end. That is after all the spirit of comedy. Things may go differently than planned, but when there is enough space for reflection, thought, and expression, then comedy is given what it needs to flourish.