Theater & art

Comedy Review

Dave Chappelle’s Hartford gibes are crowd-pleasers

Dave Chappelle (pictured in Texas last month) joked about his Hartford meltdown during his festival-closing set Sunday.
Rick Kern/WireImage/file
Dave Chappelle (pictured in Texas last month) joked about his Hartford meltdown during his festival-closing set Sunday.

MANSFIELD — Eleven days removed from his nightmare in Hartford, Dave Chappelle had a near flawless night at the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival at the Comcast Center, delivering just under an hour of loose, punchy stand-up. The same was true for the Flight of the Conchords, the tour’s coheadliners who have been somewhat lost in the hubbub over Chappelle, and an impressive undercard of comedians performing on two different stages.

The Hartford stop, during which Chappelle was unable to overcome the rowdy crowd and left the stage early, was referenced early and often by many of the performers. Brody Stevens, who hosted local comics on the second stage, asked the crowd if they were ready to take a stand should a Hartford contingent show up in buses to cause trouble.

Chappelle, whose set closed the festival, came out firing about the Hartford incident, mocking Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s interview with TMZ. Chappelle wondered who Segarra’s publicist was that he would talk to TMZ. “You know how corny this makes me feel?” he said. “Who has a rap beef with Hartford?” He joked with the crowd that they were probably excited to see if he’d have another meltdown, like being in the audience the night that Siegfried & Roy were attacked by one of their own tigers.


He said the media never lets him forget that he left his $50 million deal with Comedy Central, and his friends are no help. One gave him a book – “The Secret” – to help him through. Chappelle explained the point of the book: Visualize what you want and you’ll get it. He said he was reading it in Africa when he passed a starving child. “You got to visualize yourself some roast beef,” he said to the kid.

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He said he was conflicted about Barack Obama becoming the first black president, because his election coincided with Chappelle entering the top 5 percent tax bracket. “That’s what it feels like to be Dave Chappelle,” he said. “Too many dreams coming true at the same time.”

Chappelle was sharp even as he took a tangent from one subject to another. He revealed he had been blackmailed with a sex tape and had to get the FBI involved, and talked about how his wife, who is Asian, was hurt by insensitive comments posted to Internet stories about the family. But he found humor in even the more pointed subjects.

He was greeted with a standing ovation, and the one he received when he left the stage was well earned.

Jeffrey Ross, who will be back in town at the Wilbur next month, was amiably offensive as the master of ceremonies on the main stage, picking on members of the crowd who were highlighted on one of the four giant screens flanking the stage. He kept the show running on time – no mean feat at a festival gig. Every comic did well. Kristen Schaal was clever, leveraging her natural precociousness against some downright lascivious material and getting enough cheers for her closing “Vagina Monologues” parody to justify an encore.


But there was a schedule to keep. Up next, John Mulaney was crisp. He admitted he was terrified of Boston, based on movies like “The Town” and “The Departed.” The bulk of his set was devoted to how marijuana dealers are in for a rude awakening when they have to start competing in a world where the drug is legal. Al Madrigal had some amusing thoughts on his home life and the off-brand superhero products Mexican party stores carry to get around copyright infringement (Spider-Man with a cape?). Hannibal Buress threatened to steal the show with an incomprehensible rap song complete with background ballet dancers.

Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement of the Conchords turned in a relaxed set of songs. They joined in the Hartford-related fun, trying to talk to one of the security guards in front of the stage about how he’d stop people from sending a text. There were signs posted on the back of many of the seats stating the rules against using any electronic devices, and they pruned the audience like a bonsai tree of anyone flashing an active screen. The security guard was too intent on his job to open a dialogue with the Conchords, though. “It’s more threatening not knowing,” Bret quipped.

Their “Song for Sally” ended with McKenzie and Clement converging on a female audience member and singing an awkward rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Their set was peppered with crowd-pleasers from their HBO series, including “Robots” and a medley of “Hurt Feelings” and “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros.”

Ross noted that the Massachusetts crowd may have been the best of the tour, ending the night by saying: “If you treat every comedian the way you treated us, you’ll never see a bad show.” Worth noting.

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at