Festival Supreme: A comedy Coachella on the Santa Monica Pier
On a breezy weekday afternoon on the Santa Monica Pier, Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D are eating seafood bisque and talking about what they always talk about: how hard, exactly, they’re about to blow your world apart with their rocking.
“We’re always looking to put on the greatest show on Earth,” Black said, with his typical winking-but-not bravado. “We’re in the mind-blowing business, and no one else is doing this.”
“This” is Festival Supreme, a musical comedy shindig the two curated at the pier. The Saturday show includes Adam Sandler, Eric Idle, the cast of “Mr. Show,” Zach Galifianakis, Tig Notaro, Hannibal Buress and an underground bill of online sensations like the Mighty Boosh, Garfunkel & Oates, Neil Hamburger, Reggie Watts and scores more.
If the fest looks and feels like a comedy Coachella, that’s no accident. They’re using the layout and energy of a rock festival, and working with rock promoter Spaceland Productions, to showcase the finest and weirdest sides of musical comedy.
Indie music has long been openly flirting with comedy. FYF Fest, Pichfork Fest and Sasquatch festivals have all sported comedy stages, and such labels as Sub Pop and Secretly Canadian have released acclaimed comedy albums from the likes of Notaro and David Cross (the fest will feature a version of his cult project “Mr. Show,” with “Breaking Bad’s” Bob Odenkirk).
But with Festival Supreme, Black and Gass are returning the overtures. Unexpectedly, neither of them can recall seeing a fest like it over their decade-plus in the trenches of an HBO show, a hit record with Dave Grohl as their drummer, and three exquisitely satirical and self-aware albums about the rise, fall and comeback of their own band.
“We were surprised, and pleasantly so,” Gass said. The confluence of indie music and subversive comedy in L.A. made this the right time and place for it. “You couldn’t really do this in any other city.”
Many of today’s indie-music curators and fans have turned to comedy for a cynical, taboo-breaking edge. Unflinching comedians like Louis C.K. have taken up the brutal-truth-telling mantle of punk.
But recently, young comedians have returned to music as a subject — and the joke-song as a medium.
The fest’s biggest get, Adam Sandler, carried the torch for the joke-song during his edgy ‘90s run of albums. He rarely performs live stand-up today, and his music-centric set at Festival Supreme is the must-see comedy equivalent of a performing Tupac hologram. Eric Idle’s canonical “Monty Python” songs, such as “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” need no introduction.
But Hannibal Buress might secretly be America’s most cutting hip-hop critic if his YouTube riffs on rappers taking ecstasy and stealing your girlfriend are any indication. Garfunkel & Oates subverts the cuteness of She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel with obscene songs about Catholic-guilt sex, and the U.K. import the Mighty Boosh features a drumming, Phil Collins-loving gorilla as a main character.
“Music with humor is so easily dismissed,” said Neil Hamburger, who has held down a five-year monthly residency at the Silver Lake rock club the Satellite. As the bedraggled, self-appointed “America’s Funnyman” ( complete with a scraggly comb-over), he’ll host a tent of his own, where fans will get 30 seconds of composure-testing one-on-one time with him. “You take some singer-songwriter, no matter how shallow, and put him onstage and people will give him the benefit of the doubt. But if someone makes the same points with humor, it’s dismissed as a novelty.”
L.A. clubs like Largo have long fostered the commingling of comedians and musicians. Streaming video services have made it ever easier for fans of outsider music and comedy to find the best of each.
But with Festival Supreme, Black and Gass have imbued the traditionally anti-social comedy scene with all the excitement, community and physicality of a rock festival.
“If you’re just watching comedy on YouTube, you might as well paint your windows black and eat canned food for the rest of your life,” Hamburger said.
The only difference is that here, the comedians are the ones who get the good backstage tour riders.
“At music festivals, comedians always get the crappy little tent that ends at 6 p.m.,” Black said. “We promise we won’t do that to the musicians.”
Where: Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica
When: 2 p.m. Sat.
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