After purchasing tickets to the Funny or Die Oddball Comedy Festival, the guests received an unusual email:
“Your cooperation is appreciated – Please NO heckling, cell phones, texting, tweeting, talking, cameras, or recording devices of any kind during the show. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow and enjoy the show!”
Headliner and stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle’s unpredictable antics were the not-so-subtle reason behind the email. He notoriously turned down a $55 million contract to renew Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show and then fell off the face of the earth in 2005 (by moving to Africa). The nationally touring Oddball Fest comedy tour is considered Chappelle’s high-profile comeback, but two weeks ago during a stop in Hartford, Connecticut, he walked off stage after getting frustrated with the rowdy audience. The incident has since been highly publicized – referred to as a “meltdown” by the media – and the show’s producers were clearly worried it might happen again. But Chappelle performed without a hitch in Chicago, Detroit and Camden following the Hartford fiasco.
PNC Bank Arts Center appeared to be even more crowded than last summer’s Rock the Bells festival and the venue’s popular Phish concerts. The audience seemed to be walking on eggshells, since everyone received the same cautionary email and knew about the (however slim) possibility that Chappelle might repeat his behavior from Hartford.
Despite being filled to capacity, the crowd sat peacefully on the lawn and kept talking and phone calls to a minimum – if only to help friends find their way through the dark maze of squatting people. Rapt with attention, everyone roared with laughter at the punch lines and fell immediately silent inbetween.
The lineup of comedic talent was impressive and diverse with heavy hitters from the likes of SNL and Comedy Central. We sat down in the middle of comedienne Kristen Schaal’s set, which included a reenactment of the iconic water scene from Flashdance. Next came Al Madrigal, known as the “Senior Latino Correspondent” from The Daily Show, followed by SNL writer John Mulaney.
Then host Keith Robinson walked out and announced that a “surprise guest” had just arrived. Sarah Silverman casually walked onstage in a ponytail and a flannel button-up and proceeded to wow the shocked crowd with hilarious tales of her porn-watching habits. (Silverman was a late and welcome fill-in for comic Chris D’Elia.)
After a short intermission, headliners and New Zealand musical duo Flight of the Conchords took the stage, opening with “Jenny.” Plenty of people in the audience sang along as they played favorites like “Hurt Feelings,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room),” and “1353,” a song about wooing a girl during the medieval ages. Someone in the audience requested, “The Humans Are Dead,” about an artificial intelligence takeover of Earth and actually called “Robots.”
“We haven’t played that one in over a year,” Bret McKenzie recalled, but to the delight of the crowd the duo decided to play it. At one point during the song, Jemaine Clement paused and looked to Bret for assistance, and Bret reminded him, “Now you talk like the Terminator, remember?”
“Like this?” Jemaine strung a few chords and continued to sing in a perfect Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. Whether the mistake was intentional or by accident, the crowd loved every minute.
McKenzie and Clement’s musical ability tended to outshine their witty lyrics; they could easily have a successful music career as a jam band without the comedy element. The duo seamlessly interchanged instruments throughout the performance, using acoustic electric classic guitars, a triangle, a flute, keyboard and even a Launchpad sound mixer. The group played for an hour, chatting between songs and telling stories about being on tour and the disappointing lack of sexy groupies.
After another brief intermission, a staff member came onstage and announced that there will be no heckling, talking or texting during the following performance, as if we needed another reminder. Flight of Conchords had even joked that we could go crazy tweeting since Dave Chappelle wasn’t onstage yet.
Dave Chappelle’s silhouette emerged on stage to a standing ovation, his figure noticeably more fit since his stint on Chappelle’s Show. While some might feel that being skinny had been part of his appeal, especially since many of his famous skits had revolved around the trope of a malnourished drug addict, he looked healthy and was funny as ever. He paced the stage smoking cigarettes (or something else) throughout the show, and even cuddled with a security guard at the end of the stage during his hilarious hour-long set.
The town of Holmdel frequently took a beating. “This is the first time on this tour that I have absolutely no idea where I am,” Chappelle commented, and went on to point out that the night before in Camden a fight had broken out in the crowd, but that we “Holmdelians” were very well behaved.
Of course, he constantly referred to the media’s fixation on his “meltdown” in Hartford. He compared the predominately white Connecticut audience “with little alligators on their shirts” to a drunken predatory crowd trying to stir up trouble at a Siegfried and Roy show. “You only go to one of those shows because in the back of your mind you’re hoping one of those guys gets attacked by a tiger,” he explained.
He covered plenty of ground during the hour-long show, from what it was like to turn down $50 million dollars, to his days reading the corny self-help book The Secret while living in Africa, to cute stories about his family and raising children.
One memorable anecdote was his son’s surprise at hearing famed comic Kevin Hart describe Chappelle as the best stand-up comedian ever. “You really got it like that?” his son had asked, apparently in awe that his father was actually famous and admired by someone like Kevin Hart.
“Why do you think I can buy you every single thing that you want?” Chappelle explained to his son. “Because I’m dope!”Click here to leave a comment