Oddball Comedy Festival in Dallas: Sweaty, Weird and Fun, Even if Chappelle Was Rusty

By the time I muscled through the traditional Fair Park gridlock traffic and made it inside Gexa Energy Pavilion for last night's Oddball Comedy Festival, the place was flooded, with thousands splayed on the lawn waiting for the main stage and hundreds more in the concession area. 

The "Curiosity" part of the festival's title wasn't just an ironic misnomer: The grounds feature a couple of good ol' fashioned sideshow freaks from the Cut Throat Freakshow, who were more than willing to swallow swords, put their faces dangerously close to chain saws and staple things to their bodies for our twisted amusement.

The secondary stage gave us a taste for the comedy to come inside the main arena. The closer, Chris Cubas, stole the stage with his dark, twisted tales of living next to a "dead Mexican field" where bodies of recently deceased Mexican immigrants often turn up ("People ask me, 'Doesn't that scare you?' I'm like, 'No, I'm not Mexican.'") and renaming Texas' famous large sweet teas to "super-sized diabetes." He has an awesome rhythm and timing that could keep up with the standing only crowd that has to endure 1,000-degree outdoor heat and Budweisers that cost as much as an electric bill.

As we shuffled into the outdoor area, the crew wasted no time launching the show with the high-energy Godfrey serving as the evening's emcee. Since all the main show's roster of comics are out-of-towners, each treated our climate as if it were sitting in a roast chair on the stage. It got repetitive after a while, and it's probably no coincidence that the night's best act, Flight of the Conchords, never mentioned it.

The Daily Show's Kristen Schaal opened, and clomped out on stage in a Dallas Cowboys hat cocked to the side, a thuggish-ruggish accent and some heavy misogyny. Then she whipped the hat off to reveal her long brunette locks, playing on the fact that she was the night's only female comic. It was weird, but it worked.  She also had the greatest Dallas joke of the night, lauding the city for having "the best food, the best music, the best book depository." 

Schaal's fellow Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal also had a great set, with material about buying a house and raising a family in L.A. His best bit centered around his home life and the purchase of his tiny $700,000 home. 

"Do you know what we can buy in Alabama for $700,000?" Madrigal asked in an extreme Southern drawl. "Alabama." 

Hannibal Buress worked hard to steal the show, withstories about taking MDMA that "made me OK with pissing myself" on the dance floor because he could "dance this shit dry." He had the strongest closer of the night, with a performance of his gibberish-filled rap song that even he couldn't understand when the background music was turned off with a group of ballerinas dancing away in the background. 

Demitri Martin struggled some -- wordplay, his go-to, wasn't in this crowd's wheelhouse -- but he had a couple great jokes about the venue, wondering, "Is there anything sadder than a ferris wheel that's not used all the time?" He even managed to get in some nice banter with the crowd, even though it was a festival size and heckling was pretty much out of the question. That didn't stop them from trying. Fortunately, Martin stayed one step ahead of the assholes by doing it to himself. 

"Sometimes I feel like I'm being watched but then I realized my show got canceled three years ago," he said. 

Finally we got to the meat of the show: Flight of the Conchords and Chappelle. The Kiwi music duo delighted the crowd with stories of being on the road and all the mischief that a rock band will get up to in between gigs, whether it's enjoying one too many complimentary muffins or being momentarily trapped in an elevator.

They performed most of their classics, including "The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room" and "Inner City Pressure." My personal new favorite is a medieval-style retelling of ways men of yore would pitch woo called "Summer of 1353," which you can hear above.

Chappelle eventually made his way to the stage after what seemed like an unexpected delay. Seeing him at this stage in his career felt strange, given his infamous exit from his Comedy Central show and resulting reclusiveness. He, of course, addressed all this quickly, telling a story about hearing on a CNN report that he was making a comeback. 

"I didn't see it that way," Chappelle told the crowd. "I thought I was just catching up on some bills." 

His set was long and aimless and he seemed genuinely hampered by the heat. It ended with a failed improv bit and some awkward standing around. But his material, while not plentiful, was still sharp. 

He immediately ripped on Paula Deen, noting that there is "no statute of limitations for catching people saying the word 'nigger.'" His best work of the night came midway through his set, as he talked about hope and hopelessness and related the sad but inspiring story of a baby born in South Africa with no feet who rises above adversity and disability to become an Olympic runner. Then, when we realized he was referring to the sad saga of the Oscar Pistorius murder case, he called him "the footless OJ." 

The row of plastic seats were shaking by the time he reached the end of it.

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.