There were lots of guesses (ie drugs, exhaustion, mental breakdown from the stress & pressure, concern about portraying black people in a bad light etc.) Did the whole story ever come out?
I saw him on some “actor’s studio” type show and he basicly said that when the millions came rolling in, people thought they had the right to tell him how to make his show. He felt he was being pressured to do nothing but “I’m Rick James, BITCH!” and was losing control of the creative content. He pulled the plug and said, “I’m OUT!”
That was his usual explanation, but it always sounded kind of like bullshit. The network was making a HUGE investment in his creative talent, and for him to claim he didn’t have primary control over the content seems improbable at best.
As I recall, another point was that he saw some of the laughter at some of his “dumb black people” as not being about “we all sure can be dumb”, but about “them n------ sure are dumb.” I thought Chapelle was willing to point at silly things people did, and the people he knew best were black, so they figured prominently in his skits, but he decided that he had been leading some people to racist attitudes. Read the wikipedia article on him.
He was worried he was reinforcing stereotypes instead of mocking them. He went to Africa to soul search. I think it shows incredible depth of character.
In other words, to answer the OP, no. He gave a bunch of convoluted reasons but it seems ultimately he had some kind of mental breakdown and decided he didn’t want to do it. (The stuff about the white power structure being so evil and racist in Hollywood just kind of rang false coming from a guy who was holding a $50 million contract.)
I think he had some reservations about taking the contract to begin with. After the 2nd season, I saw him at the Improv in Ontario, CA. Somebody from the audience asked if there would be a third season. He said no. The crowd expressed disappointment. He said he just didn’t know if he wanted to do another one. He said he was just tired–tired of doing it, tired from the production schedule, tired. I was honestly more surprised to hear that he had signed the contract than to hear that he had skipped out on it and ran away to Africa. I think he had decided he was done long before it became a publicized issue.
In hearing him speak about it (sorry, no cite; this is just my memory), I think he was feeling uncomfortable with all of the money. Dave Chapelle comes from a reasonably humble, middle class background, and now he was being offered more money then he felt he ever needed. As a result, people were acting different towards him, and he didn’t like it.
Yes, I realize this sounds pretty existential. But Chapelle has generally been known to be a big pothead (or, at least was one at one time), so I wouldn’t put it past him to dwell on the meaning of all of that money and fame and how it meshed with his sense of being. Ultimately, I guess he decided it didn’t mesh very well.
There are youtube videos of his public explanation on some chat show (can’t link to them now, at work). But it comes off looking like a rationalisation after the facts. In my opinion, sealing the 50 million contract, was a threshold event for him. It crystalized some things for him, and confused others, so he took a step back, a step he knew he could afford to take, just to find direction again. It was certainly a kind of freak out for him, because he didn’t even tell his family where he was going, I seem to recall.