We had only about 24 hours to experience and dive into the gloriousness that was Clusterfest and we wanted to make the most of it. Arriving in San Francisco Saturday morning. A city that makes sense for Comedy Central to choose as the backdrop of the festival acting in small part as a character in the festival – with the square flanked by the Capital and Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on two sides.
San Francisco itself seems like the perfect location for a festival such as Clusterfest. Comedy Central’s first foray into a living, breathing fan experience. We call it a fan experience, because describing it as just a comedy or music festival wouldn’t really do it justice. Rather Comedy Central opted to go for an immersive experience that plays on some of its favorite properties new and old.
Upon entering, and getting the bearings of locations, one of the first things we’re treated to was a 2D South Park experience that allowed us to walk the streets of South Park and catch photo ops with characters from the show including the 4 boys, PC Principal, Terrance & Phillip, and a membaberries ball pit. It soon set in how well branded the festival was, concessions near these live attractions weren’t just places to grab something to eat or drink, you were getting a slice of pizza from Whistling Willie’s place or a big salad burrito from a Seinfeld-branded diner (where the actual Soup Nazi might’ve been spotted). One of the most popular attractions of the festival was a replica of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment nestled near the entrance. With a steady hour plus wait to get in, we just didn’t get the chance to make it into the apartment. But there was plenty still to see.
While festival producers went out of their way to create an immersive environment, it all would’ve been for naught had they not also spent a lot of time working on programming for the event. While it’s fun for fans to roam around a 2D environment of South Park for a few minutes, packing the show with some of the best comedic talent possible is how you keep them there all day. Headliners Kevin Hart, Bill Burr, and Jerry Seinfeld are comedic anchors that can hold a weekend together. They were also the only comedians to really perform stand-up outside over the course of the weekend, a good call. Pure stand-up shows and podcasts were relegated to 3 locations inside Bill Graham Civic Auditorium while the comedy outside came in the form of a live
Goddamn Comedy Jam, Anthony Atamanuik’s Trump Dump, or Rachel Bloom and Fred Armisen performing musical bits.
The main space of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium provided stand-up showcases for A-list talent. A Hannibal Buress show that Tig Notaro and Jake Weisman supported and Nick Vatterott hosted busting out the seams with 5,500 folks filling the seated area of the auditorium and standing room 5 people deep warms our hearts to see. We’ve been to Just For Laughs many times and an experience like this is probably the closest thing we’ve seen that resembles their galas on this part of the states. This location also provided one of the funnest moments of our 24 hours there and that would be Abbi and Ilana from Broad City performing a table read of Wayne’s World for the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release. Those two handled the movie’s main two slacker cable TV hosts while other comedians like Beth Stelling, Ron Funches, Tig Notaro, Moshe Kasher, and Michelle Buteau lent their vocals to other roles. Along with a live band and Tia Carrere herself reprising Cassandra, it proved to be a rocking good time. No way! Way.
Podcasts were mostly held in the Larking Comedy Club – a makeshift club (complete with images of comedians on the walls) where podcasts like How Did This Get Made?, Two Dope Queens, and Anna Faris is Unqualified were taped to packed groups of enthusiastic fans. Up on level 4 at Room 415 Comedy Club, we were treated to more stand-up and showcases like the next wave of comedians, the New Negroes, Pouring Stories, and Jay Oakerson’s What’s Your F*ckin’ Deal!?. For the most part, the programming was organized to optimize fan engagement. Potential audiences were taken into consideration as to not make any uber fans bummed they’d have to chose one event over the other and it paid off as the crowds were plentiful for the performing talent. Even if at times we all wanted to head over to Paddy’s Pub for a game of Flipaelphia or grab a beer.
To sum up our 24 hour experience at Clusterfest… we have to say Comedy Central and its production partners nailed it. They managed to create a fan experience that we don’t often get here in the U.S. Save for minimal issues that any festival, let alone a first year festival could experience, Clusterfest has plenty of runway to grow. Personally, we hope to eventually see an East Coast version of the festival where we will be sure to drag all of our hardened friends out for a weekend of comedy, music, and comedy. Until next time Clusterfest.