Dave Chappelle and ‘Writing for the Ear’

I sent this out to our newsroom in Little Rock a couple days after watching comedian Dave Chappelle’s post-election Saturday Night Live monologue. Why was it so effective? So talked about?

Was there anything fellow writers could learn from it? YES. Let’s break it down…

A few weeks ago I went to the White House for a party. It was the first time I’ve been there in many years and it was very exciting. And BET sponsored the party, so everyone there was black. And it was beautiful. I walked through the gates — you know, I’m from Washington, so I saw the bus stop, or the corner where the bus stop used to be, where I used to catch the bus to school and dream about nights like tonight.

How conversational is this approach? Even though you see commas and the use of “and” here and there, the thoughts are very short and concise. It’s easy to follow and thus easy to listen to. Go back and read it. You have 4 sentences but 8 pretty clear thoughts. All of them straightforward.

It was a really, really beautiful night. At the end of the night everyone went into the West Wing of the White House and it was a huge party. And everybody in there was black — except for Bradley Cooper, for some reason.

Again, short sentences and thoughts. It’s easy for him to deliver and sets up a great punchline.

And on the walls were pictures of all the presidents, of the past. Now, I’m not sure if this is true, but to my knowledge the first black person that was officially invited to the White House was Frederick Douglass. They stopped him at the gates. Abraham Lincoln had to walk out himself and escort Frederick Douglass into the White House, and it didn’t happen again, as far as I know, until Roosevelt was president. Roosevelt was president, he had a black guy over and got so much flack from the media that he literally said, “I will never have a n—— in this house again.

This might stray here from the norms of writing for the ear. Watching it, you felt like Chappelle went off script here and there. Since he’s the one delivering it and ultimately wrote it for himself, he’s able to pull it off. Notice what he ends with. He ends with the most powerful portion. It’s all a setup to that moment.

I thought about that, and I looked at that black room, and saw all those black faces, and Bradley, and I saw how happy everybody was. These people who had been historically disenfranchised. It made me feel hopeful and it made me feel proud to be an American and it made me very happy about the prospects of our country.

Again, you’ll see the word “and” used a lot, but this is nothing but short, concise statements.  And what are they? S-V-O. S-V-O. S-V-O. They’re all structured as subject, verb, object.

So, in that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. And I’m going to give him a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one too. Thank you very much.

Again, very simple phrasing but extremely powerful. His monologue was full of pretty basic verbs. It all sets up to the final sentence where he delivers his strongest verb yet. DEMAND. We (s) demand (v) one (o).

You could say we could all learn something from Dave Chappelle’s monologue – even journalists.

Want more? Wait for a sale on this book: https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Broadcast-Shorter-Sharper-Stronger/dp/1608714179

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