Stand-up Comedy is experiencing an amazing resurgence right now, so it's not surprising that the powers that be wanted to cash in with a Monsters of Rock style tour like the Oddball Comedy Festival. The lineup is incredible and more than worth the price of admission. But when I looked at the tour venues near my hometown, I recognized both Great Woods and The Meadows (now both called Comcast Amphitheater) and thought, "That doesn't seem like a very good place to do comedy."
I'd been to both venues many times in my teens and twenties for shows like Ozzfest, Lolapalooza and Lilith Fair - all of them rowdy all day parties that happened to have a bunch of bands people were paying more or less attention to at any given time. I've also been to some solo shows where the vibe was totally chill and attentive - Tool comes to mind (hey, we're learning what kind of music The Groupie likes) - but that vibe was cultivated by a tight show with no surrounding hoopla.
Unfortunately, the Oddball Comedy Festival is set up more like Ozzfest than Tool and I've been dreading hearing the horror stories of drunken, rude idiots I expected to come quietly filtering back from the guys on the show. But, this is 2013, and nothing just becomes quiet inside baseball that passes into vague legend anymore, so today we have a thousand screaming headlines "Dave Chappelle has another Meltdown!"
Luckily, in all the hubub, Leslie-Ann Lewis wrote a thoughtful comedy fan's account of Dave's set. And I'm going to believe her account because I've had the privilege of watching Chappelle do sporadic hour-plus sets around Los Angeles over the past four years. And Lewis describes to a T what I've seen - Chappelle, sitting on the stool with a drink and a cigarette, slipping in and out of material, funny stories, recollections and reflections on the weirdness of his life and career.
Almost every time, there's at least a couple of drunk audience members who start shouting out lines from Chappelle's Show or asking long-since-answered questions about his abrupt flight from showbiz. Chappelle always gamely answers, occasionally has to politely shut them down, and always keeps going because the other 95% of the audience gets it (please say that in your head with fellow Oddball comedian Brody Stevens' cadence).
There's plenty of people arguing that these folks paid money to see the great Dave Chappelle's comeback so he ought to have humored them and given them the mythic Chappelle they've created in their minds. And these people also clearly believe comedians are basically trained monkeys.
I'm not saying that entertainers don't have an obligation to entertain, but caveat emptor. If you buy an expensive concert ticket based off a band's first single or fuzzy memories of a hit you loved when you were thirteen, don't be surprised if that hit isn't representative of the whole album or the band has grown and changed since you were a teeny bopper. Vote with your wallet and don't support their new direction in the future if you like, but your disappointment doesn't give you the right to start throwing shit at the stage. And, in essence, that's what this crowd did to Chappelle.
And, yeah, it's the cushion of superstardom and money that gives Chappelle the luxury of walking away from a terrible crowd. But that's a luxury he's earned.