Dave Chappelle is on the Comeback Trail, but He's Got a Long Way to Go

Categories: Comedy

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Photos by Daniel Kramer.
Around five minutes into his Saturday night set, in the midst of a bit about hiring Paula Deen as his personal chef, Dave Chappelle said a line, laughed, shook his body and smiled. If you've ever watched any of his standup specials, it's the move he does when he's surprised and delighted by how funny he is, or just surprised he can get away with saying the things he does.

It was the moment that it sank in that Dave Chappelle was actually on stage doing comedy. It was the moment that made the entire experience real.

It was also one of the few positive moments of the less than hour-long set. While the set was funny, fascinating, even captivating, it would be a stretch to say it was good. Dave Chappelle wants to make a comeback but, if Saturday night is any indication, it's not going to be easy.

When it was announced that Chappelle would be headlining the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival no one knew what to expect. We had gotten so used to talking about Chappelle in past tense that it was hard to imagine what he would be like now. In the end, Saturday night felt more like a classic rock nostalgia tour than a comedy hero returning to the stage to prove that he's still got it.

The issue at hand seems to be one of comfort. By and large, Chappelle looks uncomfortable on stage. There would be pauses where he'd try to think of what to say next. He didn't seem confident in some of the material, and at one point decided not to finish a bit just because he wasn't feeling it anymore.

Although he did have some very funny material on Paula Deen and Oscar Pistorius, material that proves he's not completely divorced from the world at large, he was at his best when he was running through jokes that, while hilarious, were straight out of 2006. His bit about no one in a barber shop talking about Brokeback Mountain is great, but when was the last time you really thought about Brokeback Mountain as a thing that existed? It felt like he was using this older material that he knows is funny as crutch for when he was struggling with where to go next.

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He tried, for part of the show, to talk about what happened with Comedy Central and the $50 million contract he walked away from, but it felt like he was doing it more out of an obligation than anything else. Things become blurry when he talks about wishing he still had the money and that integrity is great but you can't "feed on integrity sandwiches." It's the type of talk that will eventually surface in a comedy special and come off as self depreciating and funny but right now comes off as raw and bitter.

The decision to make his comeback via a nationwide amphitheater tour will never go down as the weirdest decision he's ever made, but that doesn't make it any less strange. There's a lot of money to be made by playing for more people, but just because you can get that many people to pay to see you doesn't always mean you should. Add in to the that the solid collection of comedians that opened for him (Hannibal Buress' set featured an incredible cameo by Bun B), and Chappelle has to take the stage every night with a lot of pressure on him.

At least he got paid before the show; he made sure to mention that.

Consider for a moment one of Chappelle's heroes, Richard Pryor. We all know the story of how he ended up setting himself on fire, how everyone thought he was done for, and his triumphant return to comedy in Live on the Sunset Strip. What most people don't know is that the version of Sunset Strip that is beloved by comedy fans wasn't the first show of his return. His first show back Pryor couldn't find a rhythm, and the show was a disaster.

Right now Chappelle still needs to find his rhythm. This show wasn't a disaster, but it's clear there's still work to do. What's also clear is that he still has a great mind for comedy; his new bits might not be particularly groundbreaking, but they are funny and with a little bit of polish could be great. Oddball is only the start of the comeback and, for now at least, the fans are still ready to cheer him on.


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41 comments
LucyLou
LucyLou

Hannibal killed. Flight of the Conchords was good, but was about 20 minutes too long. Al Madrigal was funny as heck. And of course Demetri was low keyed funny as ususal. Schaal redeemed herself at the end. The opening part of her set was too vulgar to be funny.

LucyLou
LucyLou

Agreed. I saw Dave at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion outside of Houston.

I had great seats (Section 101, first row-right behind those awful pit seats where people have to look up to see the stage. 101, first row was great!)

Anyhoo, I noticed that Dave touched his face a lot and moved his hand to his chest quite a bit. At one point, I noticed his hand shake a bit. Shortly after that, he lit a cigarette.

Dave's eyes looked swollen and tired. His sclera looked a little yellowish. He actually looked like he needed about 12 hours of sleep and a juice fast.

At moment's I saw the old Dave, the Dave that we all feel in love with, shining through. At others, not so much.

But, he's still Dave and we still love him. But yes, I agree that the act needs a lot of polishing before he can reach the heights of Killin' Em Softly or his HBO special in San Francisco.

Fortunately for Dave, his fans are willing to wait, and pay for, him to get it right!

GtotheSweetea
GtotheSweetea

Well I had a freaking blast. I could do with less feedback from the crowd, I didn't pay to hear them screaming at the stage, but other than that I had a great time. I though Dave was funny, I giggled through his entire set, or lack there of. I didn't mind that he seemed to be just talking like he's having a one way conversation with the crowd. I didn't mind that he didn't seem to have material, he's a naturally funny guy and I cracked up the entire time. I liked the birthday cake and the whole nine. I thoroughly enjoyed FOTC as well. I'm still laughing at the, hole in your soul, comment towards the end.

Carla Lyles
Carla Lyles

He was great! I think people wanted him to come out as one of his characters on the Chappelle show!

Carla Lyles
Carla Lyles

I'm so confused by this article! Were we at the same place? Every person on the lawn and in the seats gave him a standing ovation. I thought he was great! He was very poised and relaxed. I feel like everyone was expecting him to come out saying "I'M RICH BITCH" ! Anyone who has actually seen Dave Chappelle’s stand up knows that, that isn't what he's about. This is the first show that I have ever gone to where I was pretty familiar with every act. I was disappointed in FOTC because they made so many mistakes and I couldn't hear Brett. Even they could feel that they were losing the audience, they even made a joke about it. I was really looking forward to seeing FOTC and they let me down :( !

Sonya M. Norsworthy
Sonya M. Norsworthy

I would point out that his jokes are his jokes. He was who he has been and I believe SOME people are really sensitive right now. I'm surprised by the number of folks who say they liked FoC considering most USers prefer a more crude/ slapstick sort of comedy. It's was good to see him but I think SOME people went with the idea that something is wrong. The venue, well anyway. A few jokes I would have encouraged him to flush out more. Like the bit on Paula Deen. There was at least 6 more punch lines for that fiasco. I did notice the crowd laughed hardest at the Paula Deen/n***** jokes.

Jen Bunnie
Jen Bunnie

Footless OJ, integrity sandwiches, c'mon Dave was funny. The only complaints I have is that his set wasn't long enuff. The guys with the guitars and funny jokes were on waaaaaay tooooo long. Wish that time would of went to Dave's set. And sitting down on the lawn all those hours, made my ass and lower back hurt. Don't underestimate Dave, he's the man. Haters.

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Randy Cremean
Randy Cremean

He was great in Austin. Not his old self, but clearly much better than the disaster that was his last appearance here. Some members of the media have their narrative about Dave and they are going to stick with it no matter what the facts may be.

Tish Squish
Tish Squish

I thought he was great. Flight of the Conchords had me nearly snoozing, but Dave & Al Madrigal were awesome!

Rad McRad
Rad McRad

So multiple standing ovations and having 15 thousand people sing Happy Birthday to you is a rough night? He might stiil be putting his act back together and getting used to playing a big crowd again, but he had that entire audience in the palm of his hand from the first word. It was a great show, I don't know what you're talking about.

dreadedunicorn
dreadedunicorn

I've seen Dave preform 3 times in the past 8 years. I walked away from this show feeling very disappointed. I really think what ruined the show was the crowd. Almost all comedians seemed out of their element except Hannibal Burress, who blew everyone out the water. Flight of The Concords talk in between songs, that's what they do. They even counted down the minutes for their set to be over because the crowd was so rude. Dave Chappelle seemed to really be reaching at times.It seemed like at one point he wanted to explain why he left comedy central and someone  yelled," I'm Rick James Bitch."  Dave explained how at one point hearing that really bothered him just for me to hear more hecklers joining in. Don't get me wrong he was still funny in a dark way. When the cake came out and he started bringing his friends out I was done. 

Dorita Hatchett
Dorita Hatchett

I think the Blog accurately reflects what happened. We were "surprised" by what the audience laughed at as well and so was Dave...LOL! I know the Pavilion had an 11 PM noise ordinance so he could not go longer but it was needed (even 20 minutes) to bring it home. You could tell he still is funny, just trying to figure out where to go with it. Some guys came out with birthday cake which took up a lot of time...planned? idk.

Renia Butler
Renia Butler

Dorita Hatchett did you and Sonya M. Norsworthy go? How was it? is this true about his jokes?

Daniel Kramer
Daniel Kramer

As I drove home from the Woodlands, I was trying to think of how I would sum Dave's performance up to my friends and glad that I didn't have to write the review. Good job Cory!

PolloDiablo
PolloDiablo

Overall it was a fun night, but I thought the entire bill was kind of hit & miss. Flight of the Conchords were fantastic, Hannibal Burress probably had the funniest set of the entire night (that Bun B cameo was incredible), and everybody else, Chappelle included, just felt kind of awkward.

I mean, I actually really enjoyed Chappelle's set, but it really felt more like a speaking engagement than necessarily a stand-up routine. At times he just seemed.. kind of legitimately sad, and his confidence just wasn't really there. I honestly wish he would have had a little more time so he could have worked at his own pace and kept going, but as it was, I think it's pretty hard not to walk away feeling at least a little letdown by what little we got.

With Demetri Martin and Kristin Schall, both of who I'm normally a fan of, I just think it maybe wasn't quite the right venue or general vibe for their style of intentionally awkward delivery. Especially in the case of Demetri Martin, who had to follow Hannibal Burress' raucous bring the house down set with his own really understated and quiet delivery.

Ken Roberts
Ken Roberts

As annoying as the crowd was ("play some songs), i though they'd be even worse. This attracted a lot of people who had seen little to no live comedy before. Given the sheer number of people, i thought there would be more shouting. I did have to ask a neighbor to please not provide poorly timed the punchlines to FoC's jokes. I like Dave Chappelle, but don't love him. That felt his set was a little below par for him, but not by a lot. While other comedians may have suffered from the venue and setting, Chappelle's is designed to work for arenas, so i don't that's it. Starting with ~7 minutes of unoriginal jokes about male rape was an unfortunate decision. I was disappointed we didn't get John Mulaney. The other performers were about as good as i expected. All were a little below what they'd normally do, but given the total lack of intimacy with the setting, that was to be expected. The second stage was pretty dire. I like Brody Stevens, but even the little bit i saw of him wasn't very good. That suffered even more from setting of being in the sun with many uninterested people milling around and not paying attention.

Aaron Rodriguez
Aaron Rodriguez

For me at least, I could not hear a damn thing on the lawn. I had to be completely focus and at attention to make out the jokes. I had no idea what FOTC said. Bad venue for a comedy tour.

nosaprise
nosaprise

I agree and disagree with this, chappelle did seem a little uncomfortable on stage but i really feel like the rhythm issue was the biggest problem. I don't put that on him, it seems as a artist/comedian you should be able to move at your own pace create your own rhythm but any silence lead to people in the crowd yelling things at him, so in turn he had to rush and fill that space so people would yell " IM rich bitch!" or "im rick james bitch" this could throw your rhythm off.  

Flight Of The Concords had the same issue, when they would stop to talk to each other people in the crowd would scream " play some songs!"  to which Bret responded " well this is what we do, we play songs then we talk then we play songs. Some people like the songs some people like the talking.......................................... guess we're gonna play another song now." 

FOTC as good as they are missed words, forgot words and had to start a song over and generally trolled Houston. MY opinion is the people that can afford to sit up close don't necessarily belong up front. Stand up is not always interactive and the audience needs to remain that.

Tyler Cannon
Tyler Cannon

This review could have been about the show the night before in Austin and would be just as accurate. I was curious to see if he turned it around in Houston. I felt like I just wanted to ask him "Are you ok?" by the end of his set.

James Rains
James Rains

This article should be about how fantastic Flight of the Conchords were.

Jayrod24
Jayrod24

Glad I'm not the only one who felt that his set was kind of a letdown. The dude seriously spent half of his time talking about turning down $50 million.

Flight of the Conchords killed it though. They were definitely the highlight of my evening - so it's  a bit of a surprise that they are not even mentioned in this article.

Kristen Schaal, Hannibal Buress, and Demetri Martin all gave strong performances as well.

However, I don't think Al Madrigal made me laugh once.

Belinda Chaidez
Belinda Chaidez

I was SUPER excited to finally see him... too bad I can't remember a single joke he said. Didn't leave much of an impression. Nothing compared to Demetri Martin & Flight of the Conchords - they had me crying! Oh well, maybe Dave will get his groove back soon. We can only hope ;)

Lauren Schneider
Lauren Schneider

I was underwhelmed at this show. Loved the other acts, though.

Ricki Lee Hodges
Ricki Lee Hodges

completely agreed... he was outshined by the opening acts (dude, flight of the concords had me crying) but he just needs to hit his stride. that performance was a little strange and not what i was expecting.

LucyLou
LucyLou

@AVANTGRD23 Hannibal Buress is from Chicago. He is the comic who did Gibberish Rap.

Godfrey C. Danchimah Jr. was the emcee. He is the one with the Nigerian parents. He was the guy from Zoolander.

Both were funny. Very funny.

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

"Cynthia Woods outside of Houston?" Haha You DO KNOW Woodlands IS Houston right? Bring your nose down a bit "inner booper".

oddacorn
oddacorn

@Jayrod24 I agree with you on Flight of the Conchords - what a treat to see them live! Hannibal and Demetri were both great, too. I'm surprised by your opinion of Al Madrigal's set, though: I thought he was pretty sharp.

LucyLou
LucyLou

@RedIsNotADrink CWMP is actually in Spring. As is the rest of The Woodlands. But, given that I've only lived in Houston since 1977, and remember when none of it was there, I am sure you know better darling. Must be great being you. On another note, I hear that the Dallas show was great. And of course, we all know, by now, that Hartford was a wash.

samuel.blck
samuel.blck

@RedIsNotADrinkThe Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, sometimes called The Woodlands Pavilion or simply The Pavilion, is a concert amphitheatre located in The Woodlands, Texas, an outer suburb of Houston, Texas.   so no its actually not Houston....

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