Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dave Chappelle: Does He Owe His Audience More? Do They Owe Him More?

Dave Chappelle has been accused by some of "melting down" at the Oddball Festival on August 29, where he was headliner and gave a very short performance. By other accounts, Chappelle didn't melt down at all, and it was the crowd that was out of control, and Chappelle gave them about a half-hour to calm down, and then left rather than try to continue to perform in conditions of complete pandemonium. I wasn't there. The reports of a calm, collected Chappelle and a crowd in meltdown seem more convincing to me, but I wasn't there. But the various reactions to the evening's activities got me thinking about the relationships between entertainers and their fans.

I think it goes without saying that SOME members of the audience, maybe the great majority of them for all I know, were very well-behaved, and had the right to expect a full-length portion of comedy from the evening's headliner, and got screwed over. The question is, was that Chappelle's fault, or the fault of their fellow audience members who wouldn't shut up?

In cases like this I tend to sympathize more, much more, with the entertainers.

I stopped watching Conan O'Brian altogether sometime before NBC fired him and he moved to TBS. I stopped tuning in with great reluctance because I like Conan's comedy very much. We're about the same age, I get most of his cultural references, and his overall absurdist approach is very sympathetic to me. I stopped watching, however, because his studio audiences had gotten too effin loud and rowdy for me. And this was me watching TV at home. I can't really imagine how disappointing some of the shows may have been for some people who had come to watch the show in the studio, who were there to watch Conan and his sketch players and his guests, and found themselves sitting in the midst of people who just would not stop screeching and whooping, and screaming hysterically at every single word anyone uttered which could possibly have been construed or misconstrued in a sexual context.

I've watched Conan's TBS show a few times, and the vibe seems totally different. The audience doesn't distract nearly as much from the actual show I tuned in to see. Did Conan do something about the rowdy crowds? Does he also think that the crowds were just plain unpleasant before? Would he sympathize with Dave about this recent incident? I don't know, maybe none of the above.

I saw Richard Pryor's stand-up movie Here and Now when it first came out, the follow-up to his huge hit Live on the Sunset Strip, and I liked it a lot. I saw it again recently, stone-cold sober, and I noticed -- there was no way I couldn't notice -- that the crowd who were live with Richard at the filming were yelling and screaming all the way through. And because of the audience, which I hadn't recalled from my first viewing, I didn't like the movie very much at all the second time. The early 80's, when Here and Now was released, are kind of a blur for me, but I was probably pretty high the first time I watched. It's not the only movie I saw back then which looks completely different to me now.

On PBS last night there was an hour-long broadcast of clips of jazz performances from the 50's through the 70's, entitled "Jazz Icons." Just about every time there was a shot of the audience, I found it embarrassing and unpleasant, and after a little while I just looked away until the camera was back on the musicians. It's not about the audience, is the point of this whole blog post. We didn't come to see the audience and we sure as Hell didn't come to listen to them. And if that means I'm in diametrical opposition to Dave Marsh, then I figure I'm on the right track.

In the midst of this recent controversial appearance of Chappelle's, a woman allegedly yelled at him, "I'm in college and I paid for this!" and Dave answered something like, "So what? I never went to college and one time I paid for sex." In my humble opinion, of the two remarks, Dave's was much funnier. That doesn't sound to me like a comedian having a meltdown. It sounds like a talented guy who just wanted to entertain and wasn't being given a chance.

Shush thy neighbor. And so the lesson endeth.

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