Sameer Rao Sameer Rao is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist whose mainly focuses on music, art, theatre, comedy, education, activism, arts communities, gender, race, society, and where all of those things intersect. His writing so far has appeared in City Paper, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, APIARY Online, WXPN's The Key, and the Good Men Project.
Flight of the Conchords
Have you ever gone to a comedy club hoping to catch a few laughs, only to spend the whole night seething at the drunken bros/bachelorette party/yuppie couple talking at outside-voice volume behind you during the whole show?
Imagine that times one million, throw in some kitschy sideshow attractions for good measure, and you’ll start to understand what the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival’s about. But let’s not pretend that you care too much about little people fighting or impromptu bluegrass sets from wannabe-steampunks (although those things were certainly curious). Really, you have just one question on your mind: Did Dave Chappelle lose it on stage again?
Fortunately, he did not. His opening statement, “Welcome to the Dave Chappelle Meltdown!”, effectively slayed the elephant in the room from the get-go. In keeping with his material from the last few Oddball stops, the enigmatic comedian repeatedly addressed the now-infamous Hartford show where he blew up at mainly-white and preppy hecklers (ironic for a predominantly-black and Hispanic city whose own municipal woes eerily echo Camden’s) before walking off to “New Slaves.” He even called out Hartford mayor Pedro Segarra, who attacked Chappelle for his behavior.
But don’t think that he’s just harping on the past. Instead, Chappelle is turning these experiences into a new routine that meanders through his thoughts in ways that feel more like a lecture than a hard-fast comedy routine. His riffs on Hartford, Obama, Paula Deen and TMZ weave seamlessly into cerebral expositions on race, media, politics and superstardom. Through it all, he’s remarkably self-aware — some people might see this as evidence of his meltdown, but maybe this just means he’s living in the spaces where people are uncomfortable. Chappelle isn’t falling apart, he’s just making authentic comedy out of his circumstances.
He hasn’t lost his touch for vulgarity, however. Lines like “I’d like to sketch your butthole” and constant references to Lil’ Wayne’s alleged preoccupation with “pussy juice” kept everyone in stitches. Remarkably, the inebriated audience was comparatively docile and heckle-less throughout Chappelle’s set. This was at least partially due to the intense lockdown that security kept throughout the amphitheater; security banned cellphone use and threatened to throw out those who heckled (seriously, it was so intense that our photographer could only stand on one super-inconvenient side of the pavilion stage to take pictures). The increased security paid off — Chappelle performed for as long as he was allowed, and event went so far as to crown this audience as the “best crowd ever.” He was truly touched, and so was the crowd.
Even if you take Chappelle out of the equation, Oddball should be applauded for shining a light on local comedy scenes at every stop. Here, this meant efficient and audience-winning sidestage sets from the likes of Pat House (who race-baited the photographer, but we’ll forgive him a little), Doogie Horner, John McKeever and current Philly’s Phunniest crown-holder Chip Chantry. Mainstage openers Kristen Schaal, Al Madrigal and John Mulaney cycled quirky and crude into an electrifying succession of performances. (Jeff Ross was just sleazy, which is really his thing. Co-headliners Flight of the Conchords managed to convey the bizarre intimacy of their folk-comedy creations to this audience of thousands.
But it was only Chappelle who was able to quiet (not silence) the annoying drunk ramblings of randos who don’t know how comedy shows are supposed to work. If he could do that in Camden, then maybe he really is making a comeback.
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