San Francisco already has a monthlong comedy festival in January (SF Sketchfest), and a giant outdoor music festival each August (Outside Lands), but how about something that combines elements of both, right at the beginning of the summer?
Comedy Central had partnered with the New York Comedy Festival for the past few Novembers, but decided to strike out on its own and build something completely new, with help from the producers of Outside Lands (and Bonnaroo). They called it Colossal Clusterfest.
Did you miss it? Here’s a video rewind.
For their first year, Clusterfest snagged top-of-the-line headliners for each night: Kevin Hart shutting it down outside on Friday before many thousands standing and sitting in Civic Center Plaza, with Sarah Silverman inside playing to a packed 7,000-seat Bill Graham Civic Auditorium; on Saturday, Bill Burr found San Francisco was serious about an 11 p.m. curfew when Clusterfest turned off the mic; Sunday, meanwhile, found Jerry Seinfeld on the outside stage with Hannibal Buress as his opening act.
Clusterfest also boasted performances from 2 Dope Queens, Anna Faris, Anthony Jeselnik, Aparna Nancherla, Beth Stelling, Big Jay Oakerson, Broad City, Chris Garcia, Chris Gethard, Chris Hardwick, Chromeo, Dan Soder, Fred Armisen, Goddamn Comedy Jam, Gorburger Live, Hasan Minhaj, How Did This Get Made?, Ice Cube, James Adomian, James Davis, Jay Larson, Jenny Zigrino, Joe DeRosa, Jo Firestone, Kyle Kinane, Liza Treyger, Lizzo, Martha Kelly, Matt Besser, Michelle Buteau, Moshe Kasher, Naomi Experigen, Natasha Leggero, Nate Bargatze, The New Negroes with Baron Vaughn and Open Mike Eagle, Nick Vatterott, Pete Davidson, Politically Re-Active with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Princess, Rachel Bloom, Ron Funches, Rory Scovel, Roy Wood Jr., Sal Vulcano, Solomon Georgio, T.J. Miller, Tegan and Sara, Tia Carrere, Tig Notaro, Trevor Moore, Vince Staples, Yamaneika Saunders, and many more, including Comedy Central’s “Up Next” (formerly Comics to Watch).
The festival not incorporated lots of Comedy Central’s on-air talent, but also flipped the script from normal festival scheduling, so music played second fiddle to the stand-ups, with most of their performances limited to outside in the daytime hours.
Nevertheless, Clusterfest still managed to schedule some comedy acts outside in the sunlight, which I have yet to be convinced is a good idea for anyone involved, from performers to audience.
Then again, San Francisco still gets relatively chilly when the sun goes down, with temperatures plunging from 80 to 50. Which led to a funny, if awkward set from Burr on Saturday night, as he spent half of his allotted time complaining about the cold. Curmudgeonly? Yes. But also true. I sat third row for Burr (and opening acts Joe DeRosa and Pete Davidson) and would have Tweeted as much — but Clusterfest had a strict no-phone policy in place for much of the action. They even used the Yondr pouches to prevent phone use for Hart’s headlining act on Friday.
Other lingering thoughts and memories…
San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, which surrounds the Civic Center Plaza, will remind you right quick of our nation’s epidemics with opioids and the homeless.
On the other side of the street, meanwhile, finds Twitter HQ. Reminding you of how much tech rules today’s San Francisco, marching north into the city center from the Silicon Valley.
I hosted and moderated a couple of “fireside chats” in the press room (although as I pointed out, no fire means plenty more chat) for Clusterfest with assorted Comedy Central talent as well as other musicians, restaurateurs and performers participating in the festivities. Here’s the complete audio from one of these chats, featuring (right to left, from me): Kyle Kinane (the official voice of Comedy Central), Natasha Leggero (Another Period), Matt FX (Broad City) and James Davis (Hood Adjacent). We talked about their experiences with San Francisco and the festival, as well as each of their projects with Comedy Central.
Clusterfest’s complete replica of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment from Seinfeld was a huge hit, with lines all weekend lasting about an hour, if not more at times, so festival-goers could pose for photos in his TV living room and kitchen. The festival also made good use of the South Park Experience by putting it outside to roam around, and built a replica of Paddy’s Pub from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to drink in, and also to watch Game 2 of the NBA Finals which aired on Sunday afternoon.
Oh yeah, the “Soup Nazi” was there, too, handing out soup if you knew what you were doing, yelling “No soup for you!” if you didn’t, an leading a Happy Festivus parade.
Megan Gailey and Ramon Rivas explored the grounds of Clusterfest so you could experience it all vicariously through them.
Other highlights included a Wayne’s World 25th anniversary script reading by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer and their friends — which for me, personally, the only true highlight was convincing actual cast member Tia Carrere to read her own part, but also to perform “Ballroom Blitz.” If only they’d gotten Mike Myers and the Bay Area’s own Dana Carvey to drop in, instead. But it sure looked like they all had fun.
Rob McElhenney from It’s Always Sunny dropped into Paddy’s Pub to challenge fans to games of “Flipadelphia.” You can watch those highlights in the Comedy Central Clusterfest TV special.
Watching back-to-back shows in the Bill Graham and seeing Aparna Nancherla deliver two completely different killer sets on them.
Rory Scovel launching into a new bit about the end of the world as we know it.
James Davis getting even bigger roars than he’s used to for his Obama impersonation.
Hasan Minhaj getting perhaps the biggest roar I heard all weekend in the Bill Graham, as fans on Sunday filled every aisle and walkway space, surpassing the 7,000-seat capacity by several hundred for him, Hannibal Buress and headliner Anthony Jeselnik, who proved you really can joke about anything someone else might consider tasteless or offensive.
I snuck this photo on my out.