You stay classy, Pittsburgh.
That's the advice we'd pass along to anyone going to the First Niagara Pavilion tonight to see Dave Chappelle and the Funny or Die Oddball Festival.
It's a lesson learned the hard way last night in Hartford, Conn., where some of those attending the show ruined it for everybody else by shouting at Mr. Chappelle so much that he stopped performing.
And that should send a chill down your funny bone if you're among the fans to shell out $100 to see him tonight.
We all know, you never know what you're going to get with Mr. Chappelle. Mostly invisible since his hit TV show ended abruptly in 2005, the volatile comedian has stepped back into the spotlight -- city by city. After years of dropping by clubs and occasional theater gigs, he has signed on as the headliner for the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival's 13-date tour. Other performers include Flight of the Conchords, Al Madrigal and Demetri Martin.
"I was there as a fan," said Ben Umanov, 31, of Brooklyn. "I drove four hours in traffic to Hartford to see Dave Chappelle, specifically because he's been out of the scene for so long and he's been one of my favorite comedians."
Mr. Umanov takes comedy seriously. He's one of the owners of The Laugh Network, an advertising network for comedy websites.
"So he takes the stage to thunderous applause and he did about 10 minutes of his routine," Mr. Umanov said. "From where we were, back in the lawn seats, it sounded like there were people up front, right in front of the stage who were excited to see him and kept yelling things out. Based on his responses, it seemed like they were screaming references to his TV show that was on Comedy Central about 10 years ago. Sayings that came out of that.
"Well, he kept stopping and starting and asking people to quiet down. Then he said, 'OK, I'll just wait until you quiet down.' And he went to the back of the stage and sat on a riser and lit a cigarette. But people kept screaming things. From what I could tell, it was nothing negative. They weren't razzing him. I saw some people on the Internet say he was being heckled, but it wasn't heckling, which I feel has negative connotations.
"Then he came back up to the front of the stage and sat on a stool, lit another cigarette, making idle chat. He kept remarking how much time he had left in his set so he could still be paid.
"At one point an audience member in the front row gave him a book that she had written, and he actually started reading from the book. Just reading from a book. And he sat there for 20 minutes chit-chatting. He told the audience he would just run out the clock."
He fulfilled his contract obligations. The people paid to see him, and they saw him. They just didn't get to see him perform.
"He did walk off the stage once, according to him, his contractual obligations had been fulfilled," Mr. Umanov said. "He said, 'Sucks for you. And it's gonna suck for me when I have to read about his in the paper.' He threatened to quit comedy again forever."
Which, considering the man's past, is a threat to be taken seriously. Attempts to contact Mr. Chappelle's management this afternoon were unsuccessful.
"It's sad. It's disappointing," Mr. Umanov said. "He's so funny and all he had to do was start telling jokes and people would have shut up. I mean I can understand why he would be upset that people were screaming things from his past. But as a professional, you know ways of dealing with that and you work through it. For 10,000 paying fans who drove a long distance, it's just not fair.
"Who knows what he's going to do. I'm not going to throw in the towel on Dave Chappelle entirely and say 'I hate him,' but I'm not sure I'd go to see him again."
OK, that's tough. But we'll hope for a better experience tonight in Burgettstown.
Gates to The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival -- with Dave Chappelle, we hope -- open at 5 p.m. and the show starts at 7. Tickets are $30 for lawn and $95.50, plus fees, for seats.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/