How much is mythology worth? It's not something you can buy, but that doesn't mean it's priceless. Dave Chappelle would have you believe it's not worth 30 million dollars.
"I didn't walk away from 30 million dollars," he said during the Irvine stop of Funny or Die's inaugural Oddbal Comedy & Curiosity Festival. "I still want it."
He went on about the bogus benefits of artistic integrity ("Let me feed my kids some integrity sandwiches") and the way most people will never understand what it's like to be offered 30 million dollars to do something. My initial instinct is to assume he's joking about the regret, because there are more jokes in it than talking about how you took a righteous stand against the fame machine. It just seemed like he left of his own free will and could get a show any time he wanted.
But he's right -- I can't fathom what a 30 million dollar offer means and what it feels like 10 years after turning it down. It's no small thing. So I can't assume that he doesn't mean the things he's saying.
At the same time, if he hadn't left his show, he wouldn't be the mythic figure he is now. But what does that amount to? He'd still be big enough to headline a comedy tour with Flight of the Conchords, but it wouldn't be a legendary return to the public eye. He still could have sold out the Verizon Ampitheatre in Irvine, but it might not have sold out as fast as it did. The idea of Dave Chappelle as a master comedian that won't dance when you tell him to, reinforced by his non-compliance at Oddball's stop in Hartford, has made him stand-up comedy's only modern day mythical figure. He would've been a hall of fame, headline comic like Chris Rock but now he could be anything.
But, still, 30 million dollars. I kept thinking about that trade off before & after the festival, wondering what's better, what matters more. It just comes down to waiting and seeing how his work will be remembered. Building a mythology is something that happens organically, and when everything comes together it's like a winning lottery ticket. But its value can only be determined in the far future. Perhaps it won't be worth the giant cash-in. Intangibles are hard to measure, and not everyone cares about maintaining a profile in the history of comedy.
Oddball was a great time, but, yes, odd. Stand-up comedy festivals can't work the way music festivals work. There's still more of a monoculture in comedy than there is in music, so you can't divide acts up into multiple stages and compete for the attention economy. There was a secondary stage, yes, but that wrapped up as soon as the big stage show began, which was a stacked line-up of Jeff Ross, Kristen Schaal, Al Madrigal, Chris D'elia, Jim Jeffries, Donnell Rawlings, Flight of the Conchords and, of course, Dave Chappelle.