By Michael Milano
San Francisco, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/25/19 – This past weekend, the 3rd annual Clusterfest took place once again in beautiful downtown San Francisco, both on the lawn of the Civic Center as well as inside of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. This festival takes top of the line comedy, and an array of eclectic musicians and puts them all into one somehow incredibly cohesive lineup and experience.
This year included immersive attractions from classic sitcoms and comedies including Seinfeld, The Office and Drunk History. A replica of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment was on display, while The Office display had props from the show, like ‘Prison Mike’s’ bandana and the board game ‘Belles, Bourbon and Bullets’. The Drunk History Pub was a new attraction this year, serving as both a bar with unique drinks and edible items, as well as a place to screen new unseen episodes of Drunk History. Clusterfest also stepped up their food this year, having a vast variety of options to choose from, and every single one that was eaten, was nothing short of delicious. But enough about the food and attractions, we’re here to talk about the performances.
The weekend started off with an informal conversation between Amy Poehler of ‘Parks and Rec’, and Fred Armisen of Portlandia. They lightheartedly spoke about everything from their former days on Saturday Night Live (of which they are both alumni), to their more recent work, like Amy Poehler’s newest movie ‘Wine Country’. The conversation took an interesting turn when she decided to convince the entire audience to purchase a C-Pap machine, of which she claims “…my life has never been the same since.” Second on the agenda for the weekend, Fred Armisen ran from the auditorium over to the ‘Colossal’ Outdoor stage to perform what he calls “Comedy for Musicians”, poking fun at contemporary music while also playing live music to drive his punchlines home in a way that most other comedians only wish they could. Then came the decision that I’m sure most festival goers this year struggled with, “should I see The Roots, or the Clueless live read starring Issa Rae, Ilana Glazer and Kumail Nanjiani?”. First was The Roots, many of which will recognize as the live band from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They played their iconic blend of live hip-hop and funk to a, audience hungry for their impeccably rehearsed musical style, which culminated into a glorious 15 minute or so old school hip-hop medley that got the entire crowd singing along. Then the goal was to run back to catch the end of the ‘Clueless’ read, which also to my surprise featured the one and only Sinbad who played the role of Mel. Finally Amy Poehler was slated to perform, and she started her set with a number by the all female identifying dance group Mix’d Ingrdnts to get the crowd going. She also had up and coming transgender comedian Nori Reed perform, as well as former punch line regular Janine Brito. Day one was great, but it was really just an appetizer for the rest of the weekend yet to come.
Day two was considerably longer, starting at 2pm instead of 5. This day seemed to have the biggest, most stacked lineup, as there were considerably more people than either Friday or Sunday. First for the day was an improvisational set starring Oscar Nunez (Oscar from The Office), Creed Bratton (Creed from The Office), Tim Meadows (Saturday Night Live alumni), Tim Koechner (Anchorman) and Ego Nwodim (current Saturday Night Live cast member). There are times where improvisational comedy can be slightly awkward, both for those on stage and in the seats, but this seasoned group of actors had some of the funniest bits, you would have figured they were rehearsed instead of made up there on the spot with nothing but a single word or story to prompt them.
Keeping ‘The Office’ theme alive, next seemed to be most people’s long awaited set of the weekend, Craig Robinson and the Nasty Delicious. You may know Craig Robinson from his character Darryl, or from his hit movies like ‘Pineapple Express’ and ‘This Is The End’. And at Clusterfest he played a variety of songs from his previous work, from The Office theme song and the Dunder Mifflin commercial jingle, to covers of popular and throwback tracks as well. His stage presence was unmatched this weekend, and it would be great to see them billed at more music-oriented festivals. But that wasn’t the end of The Office shenanigans, as on the way from the Colossal stage toward Bill Graham, there was a line of people that seemed to be eagerly awaiting something or another. Chelsea Peretti, the actress made famous from her role in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which co-stars Andy Samberg, was next up on the docket. Her set was filled with bits about the new issues of motherhood, and how she and her husband, famous director and fellow comedian Jordan Peele, deal with these newfound challenges. Finally came the headliner of the night, as John Mulaney (‘Mulaney’ and ‘Big Mouth’) delivered his unique blend of dry, yet wholly energetic comedy that has gotten him to headliner status over the past few years. John Mulaney was joined by openers Julio Torres (writer for Saturday Night Live) and Sheng Wang (writer for Fresh Off The Boat), who both laid solid groundwork just before Mulaney and his comedic prowess took the stage. Heading back from down town that night, there was only one day of the Clusterfest remaining, but still so much talent yet to be seen.
On day three of any festival, the crowd and overall energy tend to wind down a bit, but with a full day of comedy and music left, the feeling of a whole day of great acts to be explored was palpable. Comedy Bang Bang, starring Scott Aukerman and a bevy of special character guests took to the Larkin Theater, after being bumped out of Bill Graham due to the popularity of the Colin Jost & Fred Armisen Q&A getting moved there instead. Then right back into the Larkin was the ‘Bless Your Heart’ special, featuring all southern based comedians like Tig Notaro, Rory Scoville, Fortune Feimster, Sean Patton and Dusty Slay, all discussing different topics, but almost all of which were related to culture from the deep south. Rising Indie/experimental rock act Japanese Breakfast took to the outdoor stage next, bringing her mellow, yet slightly dance oriented blend of pop/rock to downtown San Francisco. Following Japanese Breakfast was the incredibly popular My Favorite Murder, a weekly true crime podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. They spoke for an hour about the Mitchell Brothers murders as well as Ted Kaczynski. Then last, but certainly not least, the final headliner of the weekend Patton Oswalt took to the Bill Graham stage, and presented a full 45 minutes worth of brand new material that will hopefully wind up being a special that everyone will be able to enjoy.
There are so many things that separate Clusterfest from their festival peers. It’s not just the eclectic lineups, or the incredible food options, or even the fact that it’s located in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but rather the entire collective experience as a whole. It’s the little things, like walking from one stage to another, and seeing that they are hosting a mock version of ‘The Rabies Awareness Fun Run’, and fans of The Office would get little cups of fettuccine alfredo (like what Michael Scott was carbo-loading on before the race), and even handed like individual “Fun Run” numbers and pins that we could wear around the festival (I’m keeping mine forever by the way). Or for some people, it’s the surprise guests, like when Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman brought out guitarist Peter Buck from R.E.M. for their segment ‘R. U. Talkin’ R.E.M. R.E.: Me?’. This festival truly is a one of a kind experience, and I am excited to see what it has in store for us in its fourth installment next year!