Anyone who caught David Chappelles recent appearance on Inside the Actors Studio knows that hes not only a smart, ribald comedian, but also a somewhat agitated casualty of the Hollywood machine, determined to speak out about the institutionalized injustices he sees within the entertainment industry.
In that context, the tone of this comedy concert filmas Chappelle joyfully wheels about his rural hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio, rounding up attendees for a block party in Brooklynis slightly jarring, but its also a nice respite from last years tabloid drama. In addition to coaxing middle-aged women at the local convenience store to join the party, Chappelle recruits the Ohio Central State University marching band, pairing them with Kanye West as openers for a day-long concert of comedy and live music that took place in September of 2004.
Director Michael Gondry and cinematographer Ellen Kuras (previously heralded for their collaboration on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) document both the planning and execution of the event, following Chappelle through rehearsals, spur-of-the-moment visits to Biggie Smalls Brooklyn daycare center and downright heart-warming interludes, such as Chappelle plinking softly away at a thrift store piano and ruminating about how young comedians should learn the art of timing by studying Thelonious Monk. Footage of the live music will primarily be of interest to fans of the performers, including a stunning set by Dead Prez, commanding turns from Jill Scott and Erykah Badu and a warmly received reunion of the Fugees.
As his fearless and now defunct Comedy Central series repeatedly illustrated, Chappelle suffers no fools and fears no censors, but he also stages no embargos against goofball riffs or straightforward lampoons. This unwillingness to conform to a singular comedic genre produces both admirable and uneven results. Wry reflections on the awkwardness of performing for predominantly white audiences or the unexpected connections between musicians and comedians are insightful; yelling pussy hole at the camera to prove that its acceptable to swear in a cinematic setting is less so.
Regardless of those less-effective moments and Gondrys rather haphazard direction, Chappelle is still one of our most valuable comedians (rivaled only by Jon Stewart) and putting him in the company of some of his favorite musicians makes for a feel-good concert film.