The Welcome Return of Dave Chappelle: On the scene at Funny or Die's Oddball Fest

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Image Credit: Gary Miller/FilmMagic

Just after 10pm last night in Austin, TX., the image of Dave Chappelle, with an American Spirit hanging from his lips, appeared behind a white scrim. When the curtain rose the crowd at the COTA amphitheater gave the man they were so happy to see back on stage where he belongs a standing ovation. After some eight years out of the spotlight, popping up every now and then across the country for a club performance, Chappelle is headlining the 15-city Funny of Die Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Tour. “Hey little fella,” Chappelle said to a 12-year-old he was shocked to see in the front row. “Thanks for taking a break from jerking off and joining the rest of us.”

“I have terrible news for the audience,” he said by way of an opener. “I don’t have any material.” A besotted woman towards the front shouted “I still accept you!” The crowd cheered. We were just glad to have him back after Chappelle abruptly bolted from his Comedy Central show and a $50 million dollar paycheck in 2005, igniting rumors of drugs and crazy town. Last night the audience made sure his homecoming was sweet.

“Where do I start?” he wondered, all loose and rangy, his bald head pouring sweat in the Texas heat. “The world’s in turmoil. The lady from the Food Channel called somebody a n—er.” He went on to wonder about all the fuss, saying “every two years a white celebrity cracks and calls everybody n—ers.” He remembered back in 2006 when Seinfeld‘s Michael Richards lost it on a comedy club stage and started hurling racist epithets at a belligerent heckler. Chappelle admitted as a man he was disappointed in Richards’ stumble. “But the comedian in me was like ‘Ooh, this n—er is having a tough show. Hang in there Kramer.’” He went on to joke that as soon as he heard the Food Network had fired Deen “I called her agent and tried to get her as my personal chef!”

Throughout his 45-minute set Chappelle circled around and around the loss of his show. In a great bit about encouraging his young son to quit an afterschool program he wasn’t enjoying  he pointed to the recent resignation of the Pope. “It’s easier to resign as the Pope than it is to quit a cable show,” he said. “Nobody said he was smoking rocks in Africa.” And by the way, “I didn’t walk away from 50 million dollars,” he said. “It isn’t true. I wanted that money very much.”

Chappelle was turning 40 the following day and he seemed melancholy about the passage of time. When an audience member yelled out whether there would ever be a sequel to the Chappelle’s movie Half-Baked, he practically recoiled. “If you ever see another Half-Baked rest assured that I have run out of money.” At one point security looked ready to bounce a heckler in the front row, a very well-meaning young man who just couldn’t stop shouting spastic encouragement at Chappelle. The comedian had to tell the bouncers three times to let the man stay. “I need his strength,” he said. “He’s inspiring me.”

At times the mere presence of Chappelle, whose sharp humor is made more poignant by his endearing sense of melancholy and unrest, was more delightful than his sometimes rambling set. “I have done 11 minutes of material in 45 minutes,” he said at the end. “I will see you in another 9 years!” But there was such a shared sense of gratitude between performer and audience. When he said “I missed you guys more than you missed me,” you kind of believed him. Welcome back Dave.

For more information on the Funny or Die Oddball Fest, which also features performances by Flight of the Conchords, Kristen Schaal, Jeff Ross and more, check out oddball fest.

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