Scenes From Last Night's Oddball Festival at Gexa Energy Pavilion.
It's roughly 10 o'clock and some 16,000 people are at the Gexa Energy Pavillion, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their favorite comedian who absconded to Africa and left an enormous fortune on the table.
A white curtain hangs in the center of the stage. Reggae tunes play, elongating the suspense.
Suddenly — well, it's supposed to seem sudden and abrupt, but, no, this moment has been carefully calculated — the silhouette of Dave Chappelle smoking a cigarette from behind the curtain catches the crowds eye.
Cue thunderous applause. The prized jester has returned.
Dave Chappelle's approximately 45-minute headlining set at last night's Dallas stop of the Oddball Festival was crisp; his patter was expectantly detached, but his jokes hit the crowd with the precision of a tunnel-visioned sniper. His rant monologue on a laundry list of pop culture subjects: himself, of course; Paula Deen; Barack Obama; Django Unchained; Lil Wayne.
The usual Chapellian comic idiosyncrasies played a big role: The stories are so hyperbolic they can't be true, but they're orated with a pristine level of confidence. Yes, the fearless racial commentary that made Chappelle's Show such must-see-TV is alive and well. And yet Chappelle is also somehow more cool and collected these days.
Sure, he reused some bits from his casual and unannounced appearance at the House of Blues last year. This time around, though, these bits were concise; Chappelle didn't give off the precious air of “Hey, I'm just here shooting the shit, guys, I've been bored.” He was down to business, for the most part.
At the end, things kind of unraveled some when harmonica maestro Frederic Yonnet took to the stage for a solo, followed by an impromptu “Happy Birthday” for our headliner (Chappelle turned 40 in Houston on Saturday) and a short, improved set featuring cowboy hats and a lucky audience member — a black rugby player, who Chappelle was all too eager to champion as a breaker of a cache of stereotypes.
Still, Chappelle's return provided a fitting end to the Oddball Festival itself, which stood out as a massive success on this night.
A major comedy festival that can serve as both a huge artistic and wild economical success is a silly thought, in theory. In practice, however, the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival accomplished just that.
Credit the good folks over at Funny Or Die for that: During the YouTube boom when YouTube was a sanctuary for comedy troupes and random funny videos, Funny Or Die took a leap and created a separate website that would be comprised of, well, its own funny videos. Seven years later, the site is an asylum for humor — and perhaps the best places to seek it on the infinite world wide web. The site's melded outsider humor with the Internet mainstream — and, as proven last night, it's more than capable of showcasing this brand in the form of a touring Woodstock of Comedy.
Flight of The Conchords, who were billed just under Chappelle and also coming off of a long hiatus, got a huge rise from the crowd and earned the first standing ovation of the night. The Kiwis' shtick encompassed seamless satires of pop and very serious indie music executed better than about 90 percent of two who professional ply the pop and very serious indie music crafts. For those without the palette for dry humor and meandering chit chat, the musicianship of the band alone demands attention. The duo played some of their most recognizable tunes, including “Business Time” and “Jenny,” but the funniest moment came by way of a new song, which centers around a father and son back and forth gone painfully awry.
In a bid to advertise his four-day stint at Addison Improv this week (August 29 – Sept 1), former 7 Up pitchman Godfrey hosted the fest. He began slow, but warmed up each time he hit the stage, before reaching a raunchy crescendo before Chappelle with bits on why kids are such bitches these days.
Showcasing his direct comedy lineage from the great Steven Wright, Demetri Martin's one-liners and deadpan wit made for a powerful set that ended with his adored witty banter and acoustic strummings.
“Sometimes, I feel like I'm being watched,” Martion sing-spoke. “Then I remembered my show got cancelled three years ago. Too real.”
Disconcertingly, Hannibal Buress, who is steadfastly rising to the ranks of comedian elite, only garnered a 15-minute set on this bill. In those 15 minutes, though, he ripped through jokes in a style best described as a blend of Mitch Hedberg's delivery as filtered through Chris Rock's charisma. His set ended with a pseudo-rap song called “Jibberish Rap” that explicates the genre's inherent silliness. A sample of the song's lyrics: “mumblemumblemumblemuble KILL A BITCH! mumblemumblemumblemuble GOT A CHICKEN DICK!”
The two acts that began the show were polar opposites. Kristen Schaal opened with her trademarked dark, bizarre and absurdist comedy — an indication to some audience members that it was time to go grab a beer — and Al Madrigal stood out if only for the fact that he was the straightest-laced comedian of the night, bringing with him no bag of tricks, minimal star power, zero instruments and a complete lack of ultra-offbeat jokes. He kept it simple and riffed on such topics as a racist Golden Corral commercial and getting his daughter to intimidate neighbors on his behalf.
A proper tour and return for Dave Chappelle and Flight of The Conchords was obviously what sold tickets for this show. But, in the grander scheme of things, a new trend may be at work: With the oversaturation of music festivals and an urge for people to fest-so-hard, the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity festival's execution and success may just be an indication that we're finally ready to laugh our asses off en masse and with startling regularity.