Funny Or Die’s Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival: The RETURN OF DAVE CHAPPELLE

Twas quite a night in the small Massachusetts town of Mansfield, just about 30 miles south of Boston.  Awaited by many, September 8th arrived, and the 2013 Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival was to be underway in the Mansfield Comcast Center. Presented by Funny or Die, The Oddball tour has been gracing all of America with some of the best names in comedy, putting fans in stitches and making faces hurt from laughter. The show is hosted by none other than The Roastmaster himself, Jeff Ross. The Mansfield show was a night full of hilarious performances from several talented comedians, but it was mostly a centerpiece for the return of the comedy titan, the legendary Dave Chappelle. This tour has served as his “comeback” after nearly 8 years of being out of the public eye, but we’ll get to that later.

RoastMaster Jeff Ross

The start of the show featured an introduction to the Roastmaster Jeff Ross, as he entered the stage to grand applause. The crowd was immediately engaged by Ross and went bonkers over his fearless, raunchy humor. From race jokes to the Holocaust[Ross is Jewish himself], there were no limits and, again, no fear for one of the best comedians of today. After about 15 minutes, he deferred the crowd to the next act, Kristen Schaal, who you may have seen in The Daily Show With John Stewart.

Schaal displayed quite a charismatic act, as her on-stage persona shows a personality of a socially awkward child who has grown into a socially awkward woman. Her set contained a mix of ironic and dirty humor which kept the audience in good spirits throughout her 15 minutes. She covered such topics as femininity, adolescence,  and had one or two..ahem, unique monologues to say the least. As she closed her set, she received a very appreciative round of applause which was longer than she appeared to have expected. Ross returned to the stage, and introduced the next act, comedian John Mulaney.

John Mulaney took the stage and got the audience enthusiastic quite quickly, with a lot of energy and confidence. Mulaney’s act was one of the funniest, as he brings a creative brand of humor which he worked into scripts he wrote for Saturday Night Live. Mulaney tackled such subjects as unknown towns, hecklers, marijuana, and “cows”. He had the crowd going for all 15 minutes of his set, kept the energy level high, and the laughs abundant. Mulaney closed his act superbly and received roaring applause from the crowd as Ross took the stage once again. I, personally, am looking forward to seeing more of John Mulaney in the future .

On a side note, let it not be forgotten that between most sets, Ross was roasting members of the crowd. Whether he pointed at someone, or brought a pack of fans onstage, he made sure he stayed true to his title as “The Roastmaster”. These short mini-roasts served quite well to keep the crowd warmed-up in the few minute transitions.

Al Madrigal was next to hit the stage, and he tore through a fun 15 minute set of traditional, yet enjoyable, humor. Madrigal talked about such things as marriage, fatherhood, neighbors, and commercials. As I said, Madrigal had nothing too different or obscure about his act, but he impressed the crowd with his fresh approach and pinpoint timing. Madrigal consisted of recognizable topics and familiar material, but in the end, he made everyone laugh quite a bit, and left the stage to a courteous amount of applause.

In came comedian Hannibal Burress. Burress had no problem sporting his enthusiasm with a shining pair of what he described as “astronaut pants” throughout his act. Burress possessed an act that I would describe as somewhat “mainstream”, but certainly not in a bad way.  Burress was an energetic and very articulated act. He was certainly the loudest of the night, which worked to his advantage and kept the audience in good spirits. His humor consisted of a few dirty jokes here and there, security measures, his family, and a creative way of riffing on modern music. He had one of the more elaborate productions of the show, and the audience responded very positively to it.  Burress closed, and the show reached an intermission. Next to perform as the semi-headliner was the musical comedy-duo “Flight Of The Conchords”.

Flight Of The Conchords consists of two New Zealand-born comical musicians, Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement. They opened to quite a good round of applause as they introduced their act with a song [surprise!]. Personally, I found this act to be just a bit stale for my taste. The two comedians are certainly talented, musically and even comically, but their humor comes off as extremely dry, and nearly simulating.  Also, the sound mixing did not allow me to hear a number of their jokes or payoffs well, so my distaste may have been an issue with the production of the act too. Their set lasted about 30 minutes, and they seemed to please a good amount of the crowd, and they closed what may have been a successful set. The audience then grew anxious, as the lights turned back on, and Jeff Ross returned to stage to announce one final short intermission before the final act of the show, Mr. Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle returns onto the comedic spotlight for the first time in nearly a decade

Before we get to the act itself, it must be reviewed why this is referred to as “The RETURN of Dave Chappelle”. Chappelle is one of the most prolific names in stand-up and television comedy. Throughout the early 2000s, Chappelle quickly made a name for himself as one of the most hilarious and insightful comedians of all time. His material ranged from brillaintly relatable to brilliantly satirical. Whether it was tackling government issues or even talking about his “former” marijuana habit, Chappelle’s range proved unmatched. His grand-slam hit sketch tv series Chappelle’s Show is one of the most acclaimed sketch comedy series of all time, and [I believe] remains as the best-selling tv series to date on home video[DVD, not cassettes. Although they were still around in 2004. Damn, those things were awesome. I miss childhood…anyway!]  Chappelle was the face of comedy for a dominant reign, but later complications led to one of the most puzzling controversies in show business.

While filming the third season of Chappelle’s Show, Dave was met with an ethic challenge. Upon signing a 50 MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT to renew his show, Chappelle left his show and career behind abruptly. Chappelle has explained the experience numerous times, and it is evident that he was being pushed into a corner by “studios” which gave him nothing but stress, conflict, and anxiety. Dave tends to hint toward darker details, but has never been explicit about the subject. What resulted from his leave was an 8 year period of Chappelle-less Hollywood.  He did, however, discretely stay in the comic game, performing at smaller venues. Upon the announcement of the Oddball Tour, it has been referred to and regarded as Chappelle’s “Comeback”. Myself, the crowd, and the world were ready to see Chappelle return to the game in grand fashion.

The lights at the Comcast Center dimmed and the stage backlights blasted high, illuminating a large white curtain which was occupied by a large, familiar silhouette. The audience went absolutely crazy [I stood, screamed like a pre-pubescent girl at a Backstreet Boys concert] and the curtain dropped to reveal the man himself, the king, Dave Chappelle. What resulted was one of the most grand and epic openings I have ever witnessed, as Chappelle was greeted with a standing ovation which lasted what seemed like a couple minutes. Chappelle smiled, stepped forward and began the show.

What ensued was classic Chappelle, as he presented himself in true form. He quickly referenced what he called “The Hartford Debacle” and made light of the situation. Dave seemed to have not lost a beat in his onstage swagger, as he displayed his classically calm and relaxed personality while delivering lines that killed the audience one big laugh at a time. Dave treated the crowd to hilarious anecdotes of his at-home exploits after his retreat from the mainstream, and every one of them was a sure hit. His father-son interactions were also killing the audience. Dave would segway through his material by dragging on a cigarette, as the audience remained completely respectful.

Dave did not hesitate to talk about his 2005 departure from show business, and he made great fun of the situation, constantly poking fun at himself for the stir he was in, but continued to defend his ethic decisions. Chappelle continued on to talk about the changes of the world and his place in the world since his spotlight departure, including the election of a black president, his homelife, his viewpoint on the world, but that didn’t stop him from talking about crackheads, hookers, and genitalia. Chappelle’s style is anything but pretentious, as he keeps a casual and down-to-Earth view at life and its hilarity. Dave Closed his set after nearly an hour, to which the audience erupted with an elongated standing ovation which roared throughout the Comcast Center.  Jeff Ross thanked the Mansfield crowd, and dubbed them as the best of the tour, and the lights came on.The night ended perfectly.

The Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival was nothing short of fantastic, filled with profusely talented comedians, musicians, and “roasters”. The crowd laughed loudly throughout, and with the legend Dave Chappelle as a headliner, the show proved to be glorious.

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