On February 11, 2004, the fourth episode of the second season of Chappelle’s Show aired. The series had built a great deal of buzz with its 12-episode first season and had some classic sketches over the second season’s first three episodes — including “The Racial Draft” and “The Niggar Family” — but nothing compared to what happened that night: The Rick James installment of “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” debuted. Besides being an incredible, hilarious sketch that is able to tell a complete story with both pathos and dense punch line concentration, it instantly became a phenomenon. Very early in the days of social media — Facebook was weeks old — people shared the sketch any way they could, whether it was through MySpace, AIM away messages, or just shouting “I’m Rick James, bitch” so often that people had to go home and see what they were talking about. For a sketch with plenty of great lines (“Fuck yo’ couch”), “I’m Rick James, bitch” possessed a level of quotability that wasn’t duplicated, on college campuses especially, until Borat had a wife.
But the sketch, and that line in particular, was the beginning of the end. Watch the below clip from Chappelle’s 2004 special For What It’s Worth and see how angry he gets talking about it. This 80-second bit basically explains everything that we’ve seen with Chappelle’s career since — from his escape to Africa to the recent stage walk-outs.
It makes the tenth anniversary of this sketch a bittersweet one. You watch it and you see everything that went so right and so wrong with Chappelle’s Show. It was too funny.