Fire, flood, famine — none of these threaten a stand-up comedian more than an audience. If the comedian can't connect to the crowd, the performance and the material do not matter.
Dave Chappelle can tell you all about it. It has been a few years since he was "it" before his legendary exit from it all. But because of "it," he's comedy's top draw — at least in the Bay Area.
Here, his shows are an event and follow a tight script — show is announced, show sells out. On Friday, it was at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View where Chappelle headlined five hours of jokes at the sold-out Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival.
But that presented a problem: Big venues aren't good for stand-up. It's hard to connect to someone you can barely see.
For Chappelle, that has led to scenes like the one in Hartford, Conn., earlier this month in which the heckles and shouts led him to walk offstage.
Avoiding a repeat of this was order No. 1 on Friday, made clear by signs posted all over the venue promising ejection for talking, texting, tweeting or recording during the show. Only in the Bay Area could smartphones be more controversial than marijuana use, but the mission was accomplished. Mostly.
Mountain View was no Hartford, even though nobody was sure exactly what it was.
"Hello sort of San Francisco, sort of San Jose!" roared Hannibal Buress to open his set.
"Who here works for a computer company?" asked Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement during the quirky New Zealand musical comedy duo's appearance.
The answer — asked at a concert venue next to Google's massive main campus, outside a sea of red-gold-green Google bikes and white shuttle buses — was obvious.
And it was a good thing: Whether it was the warnings or the atmosphere, the crowd of nerdy folks listening attentively to their favorite acts riff on race, technology and religion was just what this tour needed.
"Bay Area! Finally!" Chappelle said when he stepped on stage about 10:15 p.m., to roars of adulation before launching into tested material on Oakland taxing weed, figuring out an Asian woman's provenance, the San Francisco Zoo's fatal tiger mauling and buying Indian food in the Tenderloin. This was a home game for Dave, no doubt. "I thought I'd never get here. I feel safe," he said.
However, not everyone shared that sentiment.
Acts with music like the Conchords and Buress, who performed "Gibberish Rap" in a Diddy-worthy shiny suit, are perfect for spacious settings like Shoreline. But others seemed to be thrown off by the venue.
Chris D'Elia of NBC's "Whitney" gave a solid performance for the lucky thousands in the arena's inner bowl with his physical bits, leg movements punctuating the jokes. But all that was missed by those in the cheap seats, who watched not the man on stage but the man broadcast on monitors from the mid-waist up.
Inner Sunset native and Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal, the self-proclaimed "worst Mexican ever," never quite got settled on stage.
And really, neither did Dave.
Like many standup comics, his is an act best seen when contained by four walls and a ceiling and unrestricted by sound curfews. He had just gotten rolling when the lights came up and the show ended.