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Review: Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Posted 11:47pm on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013

Dave Chappelle was searching for ... something.

During one of several lengthy pauses during his roughly 45-minute set Sunday night at a sweltering Gexa Energy Pavilion, the headliner of Funny or Die’s inaugural Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival would stare off, into the middle distance.

The newly minted 40-year-old (Chappelle celebrated the milestone birthday Aug. 24) often abruptly ended whatever thought he was sharing, trailing off and taking a drag on his cigarette or pausing to mop his sweaty face with a towel.

His re-entry into stand-up has been tentative — albeit generally well-received — and it was clear Chappelle has plenty on his mind, even if it isn’t yet streamlined into a cohesive, coherent set of jokes.

Not that the packed venue necessarily cared.

Chappelle received, bar none, the most enthusiastic greeting of the night, with fans leaping out of their seats and roaring as if attending a sporting event.

It was a powerful moment, and one which undoubtedly helps ease any hesitations the famously ambivalent Chappelle might have about stepping back into the spotlight. (Although, as he put it not long after taking the stage: “That’s why I’m back out [on the road] — I realized life is hard.”)

Time away from the glare of the pop culture mainstream hasn’t dulled his edge.

He was lacing into the Paula Deen imbroglio — Chappelle cracked he’d thought about hiring her as his personal chef, stating he “doesn’t care who fries his chicken” — and dissecting Obama’s presidency, the lyrical genius of Lil Wayne and the mystery surrounding South African runner Oscar Pistorius with equal elan.

That stare conveyed something else, too: weariness.

Chappelle is doubtless tired of fending off brainless heckling — one offender Sunday shouted something about the cult stoner comedy Half Baked, which prompted this rejoinder: “When you see Half Baked 2, you’ll know I’ve run out of money” — and wants to, as did Richard Pryor later in his career, move beyond the titillation of drugs and sex.

Chappelle appears to want his comedy to have consequence — the punchlines to carry some weight and insight beyond mere humor.

Moreso than any other comic working now, he could easily achieve such a goal, but whether his audience lets him get there is another matter entirely.

Dave Chappelle wasn’t the only comedian on the bill (although some acted as though he was), and the Oddball line-up was stacked with plenty of worthy comics, including New Zealand joke-folkers Flight of the Conchords, who previewed a couple new tunes and trotted plenty of classics, including Business Time and The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room).

Elsewhere, Kristen Schaal spoofed Flashdance, while Al Madrigal riffed on race, Golden Corral and his children. Hannibal Buress expanded on his personal vices, while slyly deconstructing rap songs, which culminated in an absurd tangent involving ballerinas.

The deadpan Demetri Martin — “This is hot, for comedy,” he noted upon taking the stage — displayed a vibrant, quicksilver wit, jousting with the audience and offering up plenty of dry non sequiturs. The night was emceed by Godfrey, who offered 10 minutes of his own just before Chappelle arrived, and touched upon everything from sex to politics.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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