The 46-year-old actor and comedian was honored Sunday at a star-studded ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Chappelle said in an interview with Reese Waters on the red carpet that seeing his family and friends was the best part of the award.
"It's a milestone," he said. "It's unbelievable. It really is heartwarming. It justifies the best part of why you start doing something like this."
Chappelle's wife, Elaine Chappelle, and kids, Ibrahim, Sulayman and Sonal, attended the ceremony, along with Tiffany Haddish, Sarah Silverman, Morgan Freeman, Bradley Cooper, Kenan Thompson and other stars.
"Dave, you have always been a mentor," Haddish said onstage. "You've been my mentor, my big brother. Every time I step on stage -- every time -- I think of you, because I've always want[ed] to make you proud. 'Cause you the greatest."
Chappelle reflected on his love of comedy in his acceptance speech.
"I love my art form because I understand every practitioner of it, whether I agree with them or not, I know where they're coming from," he said. "They want to be heard, they got something to say, there's something thy notice. They just want to be understood. I love this genre, it saved my life."