Welcome to the Dave Chappelle meltdown’

Oddball Fest lives up to its name—but not for the reasons you’d expect

Flight of the Conchords’ subtle banter doesn’t play as well in 10,000-seat arenas. Go figure.
Photo: Bill Hughes
Jason Harris

Three and a half stars

Oddball Fest September 21, Mandalay Bay Events Center.

“Welcome to the Dave Chappelle meltdown” were the first words out of the comic’s mouth during his headlining set on September 21 at Mandalay Bay. Unlike at his recent, horrible Oddball Fest tour stop in Hartford, Connecticut, here Chappelle had no need to tell heckling fans that he wanted them to all die in car accidents. The Las Vegas crowd was attentive, more than anything wanting to see what Chappelle could do. One question was answered definitively: Chappelle still has it; talent like that doesn’t go away. But another equally important question remains: Does he want to do this?

I have no doubt Chappelle still wants to perform stand-up comedy, but closing out a four-hour festival show for 10,000 people is not something he seemed that into. Unlike the comfortable high energy he displayed in seminal special Killin’ Them Softly (which comics still rip off more than a decade later), Saturday saw a laid-back Chappelle. No doubt he had his moments—on Las Vegas, “I don’t know who’s selling pussy and who’s giving it away”—but after about 30 minutes his set was over. This from the man who once did more than six hours at the Laugh Factory.

Chappelle talked about his first gig in Vegas, going on after James Brown at the House of Blues. That type of smaller venue would serve Chappelle well as he continues to find his new path. I’d easily bet the genius Chappelle has another monster hour in him, but festival name aside, it’s odd for him to be working it out in 10,000-seat arenas.

A more intimate stage would have also benefited co-headliners Flight of the Conchords. Their entire persona built on being a “struggling” music-comedy duo, their subtle humor and between-song banter, all of which clicked on their HBO One Night Stand and their self-titled narrative show, was all but lost on most of the large crowd. Having the longest set of the night, just after intermission, didn’t help.

The best sets went to Hannibal Buress, who has the potential to be the next breakout superstar comic, and Jim Jefferies, star of FXX’s fantastic single-camera comedy Legit. Buress’ riff on 2Chains’ “Birthday Song” was only surpassed by his own jam, “Gibberish Rap,” which is exactly as it sounds, a nonsensical song featuring very few discernible words besides classic rap phrases like “kill a bitch.” Jefferies’ long rant on gun control from a foreigner’s point of view was the night's best pure chunk of stand-up. More highlights before intermission than after? Maybe that’s why they call it Oddball.

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