“Fuck Hartford.” The first words out of Dave Chappelle’s mouth onstage at the Chicagoland stop of the Oddball comedy festival were probably the most cathartic three syllables uttered on Earth on Saturday night. It was just two days after a misguided and wrongheaded audience ruined Chappelle’s set for themselves, and there had been a palpable tension running through the massive First Midwest Bank Amphitheater in Tinley Park, Illinois all night. Thoughts of the actions of the Connecticut mob of “young white alcoholics”—as Chappelle later described them—hung heavy in the atmosphere all night, with overeager security guards and countless posters taped to seat backs actively warning against heckling, cell-phone use, and (again) heckling.
Ultimately, Chappelle, and his eclectic supporting cast of comics had a successful night, which is no small feat for a stand-up comedy tour stopping in a gigantic venue that, just one night earlier, hosted Kid Rock’s $20 Best Night Ever Tour. The A.V. Club hit the road southbound from downtown Chicago to the suburb of Tinley Park with measured expectations, hoping for—and thankfully having—a very nice time at the first-ever Funny Or Die Presents Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival. Here’s the best and the worst of what we saw.
Weirdest possible host selection (in a good way): As the crowd filtered into the six entrances to the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, the show had already begun on the Airheads Festival Stage, a smaller stage set up next to the food-vendor tents. The maniacally positive Brody Stevens took full advantage of the wireless microphones, introducing rising Chicago-based stand-ups like Adam Burke, Kellye Howard, Danny Kallas, and Mike Lebovitz from various spots throughout the slowly growing side-stage crowd, making for a sort of on-the-ground Where’s Waldo? situation, with a magnetic, catchphrase-crazy comic assuming the role of the walking-stick rocking time-traveler.
Weirdest possible host selection (in a not as good way): Roastmaster General Jeff Ross felt weirdly out of place as the night’s host. His straightforward insult-comedy stylings stood in stark contrast to the more nuanced, alt-leaning lineup. Ross, who was still rocking some pretty roughneck-looking cornrows leftover from the James Franco roast, gave the business to audience members several times throughout the night, telling an attractive woman that he’d definitely fuck her, letting a group of Middle Eastern dudes know that they looked like terrorists, and making fun of bald guy for having no hair. One joke, however, was completely undeniable in its sheer corniness: Ross suggested that an overweight man in the front row looked like he was into S&M: “Spaghetti and meatballs!”
Most unnecessary thing of the night: Oddball Fest is sponsored by the celebrity gossip TV show Dish Nation, which showcases various morning-drive DJs in their element and goofing on the Kardashians. DJ Rock-T, a former New York Met and current NYC morning-show/Dish Nation personality was the first to take the main stage, enthusiastically greeting the crowd as it found its seats, only to quickly relinquish the mic to side-stage host Brody Stevens, who immediately introduced Jeff Ross, who roasted some ugly/fat/sexy/terrorist-looking audience members for a minute before introducing Kristen Schaal, who totally destroyed with an energetic, loose set, bringing an end to the comedy whiplash that had begun to set in from the rapid-fire, super-unnecessary introductions to introductions.
Most polished set: Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal had one of the best sets of the night. With material primarily focusing on his family life, he managed to come up with a fresh take on one of the most well-worn comedic territories. Madrigal took the stage early on in the show with a set that was tight and riff-packed, setting the bar high for the comics that followed.
Most heartwarming homecoming: Former Chicagoan Hannibal Buress has had a killer couple of years, scoring writing gigs on SNL and 30 Rock, and a sidekick role on the Adult Swim talk show The Eric André Show. Lately, Buress has been focusing primarily on stand-up, and that’s very fortunate. His triumphantly silly, multimedia-packed Oddball performance was easily one of the night’s highest highs, employing ballerinas and a series of musical drops from the Chicago-based hip-hop producer Tony Trimm. By the end of his set, after an extended performance of his hit novelty single “Gibberish Rap,” the crowd was in full standing-ovation mode, cheering for Hometown Hannibal.
Best banter: Co-headliners Flight Of The Conchords played the perfect balance of old and new songs, opening with “Jenny,” an old track that might still be the best distillation of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement’s genre-hopping charm, before rolling out newer, post-HBO-show tracks like “Fuck On The Ceiling” and “The Summer Of 1353.” The real treat, though, was the comedy-folk duo’s between-song banter, a combination of preplanned bits and off-the-cuff, slightly out-of-character comments. After enduring fratty shouts of “BUSINESS TIIIIIIIIIME!!!!” for three-fourths of their set, they finally launched into what has clearly become their most popular song. Things got real when an audience member from one of the first few rows got up during the song’s intro and headed for the aisles; McKenzie said, not entirely jokingly, “Yeah, we hate this song too.” That look behind the band’s polished veneer was both hilarious and slightly bittersweet, shining a light on the real-life creative struggles of a two-man comedy band.
Best narcoleptic DJ: While the stagehands tore down Flight Of The Conchords’ setup, an enthusiastic Atlanta-based DJ looked to energize the crowd by playing a mix of Jock Jams (“Push It” and “Apache (Jump On It)” were standouts) and the Cheers theme song. Later on, shortly before Chappelle wrapped up his set, he drew attention to the fact that, though he was still onstage, his DJ had fallen asleep. It wasn’t even a bit; he’d actually fallen asleep in his chair, which Chappelle explained was “hard for me to not take personally.”
Tensest audience ever: The tension before and during Chappelle’s performance was thick. At several points, he mentioned that even he was surprised he’d stuck around for the rest of the tour after that disastrous set that was (inappropriately) dubbed a “meltdown” by the press. Tensions ran so hot all night that any and all mentions of his disdain for the city of Hartford or how the Chicago crowd was far less horrible resulted in a 10-second applause break. Everyone—aside from one or two shit-brained hecklers who, thankfully, were seated far enough back that their cries were rendered unintelligible by the mammoth venue—was eager to show the prickly comic that they were on his side. Chappelle was aloof and affable all night, sharing a handful of personal stories with a few absurdist flights of fancy in between. An extended riff that imagined Lil Wayne as a CSI-type fluid analyst was an especially thrilling, albeit prurient, chunk that was reminiscent of Chappelle’s Show at its best.