News Column

Dave Chappelle hits the road with Flight of the Conchords and other TV comics

August 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 29--Mostly invisible since his hit TV show ended abruptly in 2005, Dave Chappelle has suddenly thrust himself back into the spotlight -- city by city.

After years of dropping by clubs and occasional theater gigs, he turned 40 on Saturday as the headliner of the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival, a 13-date, two-stage tour that moves into First Niagara Pavilion Friday.

Also on the bill are Flight of the Conchords, Hannibal Buress, Demetri Martin, Kristen Schaal and Al Madrigal, but it's Mr. Chappelle -- who has limited himself to sporadic gigs and surprise visits to clubs -- who brings the curiosity along with the funny.

After appearing in films such as "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and "You've Got Mail" and scoring a hit with his Comedy Central sketch show, Mr. Chappelle suddenly bolted for a hiatus in South Africa. In a 2008 appearance on the interview show "Inside the Actor's Studio," he said corporate interests, the bundles of money being thrown his way and pressure to produce sketches that went against his Muslim beliefs prompted his decision to leave. He said it wasn't a breakdown, as was often reported; it took strength to walk away.

Citing Martin Lawrence and Mariah Carey as examples of what he was going through at the time, he said, "The worst thing to call somebody is crazy. It's dismissive. ... These people are not crazy. They are strong people. Maybe the environment is a little sick."

In the week before the current tour began, his visibility spiked when his face was splashed on a high-end product: the cover of Prince's new release, "Breakfast Can Wait." In the cover shot, the comedian is dressed as the ruffled rocker from a "Chappelle Show" sketch, in which Charlie Murphy recounts the night he and Eddie played basketball with Prince (played by Mr. Chappelle) and the Revolution.

Jason Zinoman, who writes about comedy for The New York Times, said rumors of the comedian's return have been brewing since he appeared with Chris Rock at the Comedy Cellar in New York. At an April appearance in San Francisco, Mr. Chappelle explained the reason for his comeback. The father of three "took a drag from his clove cigarette and leaned into a punch line with emphatic exasperation: 'Private school is expensive!' Then he flashed a sneaky grin, clunked his microphone on his belly and scampered upstage the way he used to in the opening moments of his old series," Mr. Zinoman wrote.

"I've seen Dave Chappelle perform for the last 20 years. We started out together," said tour emcee and comic Jeff Ross. "He's in tip-top shape. He looks great. He did over an hour of solid, hilarious material and observations. And it might have been the most personal set I've ever seen him do."

Along with Dave Chappelle, comedians on the First Niagara stages will include:

Flight of the Conchords

Famous for: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement met in 1996 and after experimenting with a five-man group called So You're a Man, they formed comedy folk duo Flight of the Conchords two years later. It became a one-group New Zealand folk invasion for HBO with the 2005 show "Flight of the Conchords," which has them touching down in New York City. It lasted two hilarious seasons. There's a Grammy and an Oscar between them, with the group having won best comedy album in 2008 for The Distant Future and Mr. McKenzie winning the Academy Award for best original song for "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets."

Why they're funny: It's about the music, and the bumbling, but mostly about the music -- songs ranging from the French pop lullaby "Foux du Fafa" to the hip-hop "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymnocerous," to the cannibal sea chanty "Petrov, Yelyena and Me."

In the works: Mr. McKenzie appears in the new movie "Austenland" starring Keri Russell as a woman obsessed with Jane Austen's novel "Pride and Prejudice," and he's working on a movie script that he describes as a "mixture of The Muppets and The Princess Bride."

Al Madrigal

Famous for: The Senior Latino Correspondent on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" who doesn't speak Spanish.

Why he's funny: Observational humor about family life on the album "Why Is the Rabbit Crying?" -- the title is from a tattoo seen on his son's "Cholo Soccer Coach" -- sparked the New York Post to label him "Roseanne Barr for the 2010s." He was named best stand-up comedian at the HBO/U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, and his TV series work includes "Gary Unmarried" and "Free Agents."

In the works: Slated to appear in the upcoming NBC comedy "About a Boy."

Hannibal Buress

Famous for: This Chicago comic went from writing for "Saturday Night Live" (2009-10) to writing for season five of "30 Rock," where he also appeared on the show as the "homeless guy." His 2012 CD "Animal Furnace" became a Comedy Central special.

Why he's funny: His humor touches on subjects such as writing for "SNL," lack of sex and the hip-hop scene. His oft-quoted line is: "People say, 'I'm taking it one day at a time'. You know what? So is everybody. That's how time works."

In the works: He's working on the Amy Poehler-produced show "Broad City" with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, "The Eric Andre Show" on Adult Swim and a pilot for Comedy Central.

Kristen Schaal

Famous for: Schemer Hazel on "30 Rock," groupie Mel in the HBO series "Flight of the Conchords" and the correspondent tackling women's issues on "The Daily Show."

Why she's funny: The award-winning stand-up comedian has big eyes and a squeaky voice that belie a lot of tough-girl attitude. With her husband, comedian Rich Blomquist, she wrote the humor book, "The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex." She has collected a long list of TV and film credits, including the voices of Trixie the Triceratops in "Toy Story 3" and a couple of witches in "Shrek Forever After."

In the works: She voices characters on animated series "Gravity Falls" for the Disney Channel and "Archer" for FX.

Demetri Martin

Famous for: "Important Things With Demetri Martin," a Comedy Central series from 2009-10; he also starred in the movie "Woodstock."

Why he's funny: The boyish stand-up (who also just turned 40) and former writer for Conan O'Brien has a subtle sense of humor, often standing in front of a large pad and employing simple drawings. One Funny or Die video shows him using "a simple chart that shows how short the person is vs. how drunk the person is. [And a line that shows] the shorter and drunker the person, the funnier it is." When he turns the page, there's a breakdown of Hummer owners, and so on. His three albums include last year's "Standup Comedian."

In the works: He co-stars in the soon-to-be-released Lake Bell film "In a World ...," which won best screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival.

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960; Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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