Inaugural Clusterfest comedy festival comes to San Francisco

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Joan Kang/Staff

Editor’s note

While summer time often brings a slate of well-established music festivals to attend, this year brought the Clusterfest — a comedy festival. Hosted by Comedy Central, along with Another Planet Entertainment and Superfly, the festival featured some of the biggest names in comedy, from Jerry Seinfeld to Kevin Hart, and included several musical performers as well.

While a novel and innovative idea, the inaugural festival was also plagued by technical and logistical issues, sometimes making it difficult to access events. Nevertheless, future iterations will hopefully establish a successful and hilarious tradition.  

— Imad Pasha

Jerry Seinfeld

Equipped with a subtly arrogant flair and a reputation that makes his fellow headliners look like up-and-comers, Seinfeld drew the audience in from the start.

From the start of the Clusterfest, Jerry Seinfeld’s name — and references to the “TV show (he) did in the ‘90s,” as the comic affectionately calls it — was plastered across the entire festival in the form of licensed merchandise, themed food vendors and a full-blown Festivus parade. But Sunday, when the the wait time to see a replica of Seinfeld’s television apartment jumped from about an hour to more than three hours, it was clear the man himself was set to perform that evening.

While Bill Burr and Kevin Hart were confined to 45-minute sets, Seinfeld was given a full hour and 15 minutes. Fans were treated to a virtually uncut Seinfeld act, one you might have expected to see only in an auditorium, not in the wide open space of Civic Center Plaza.

Equipped with a subtly arrogant flair and a reputation that makes his fellow headliners look like up-and-comers, Seinfeld drew the audience in from the start, even finding moments to pepper in both old and new material. Topics covered in his trademark observational fashion included the glorious invention of the Pop Tart, the superiority of a woman’s brain over a man’s and the struggles of refraining from late-night cookie eating.

What’s more is that Seinfeld was perhaps the only comic not to make cop-out comments about the freezing cold San Francisco night, and the only one to effortlessly make Instagram-happy audience members completely forget about their phones for an hour and a half. In short, the guy’s the legend and utter pro we’d all believed him to be.

— Danielle Gutierrez

Bill Burr

Despite how packed the Clusterfest grounds were Saturday, Bill Burr didn’t seem to be the main draw like the other headliners were on their respective days. When the festival staff and security guards weren’t coming in and out of audience barriers every five minutes, they were asking each other, “Wait, who’s the headliner again? So I can tell people if they ask.”

Still, plenty of devoted Burr fans made it out to his set that evening. A couple even brought their young son along to the performance — a surprising choice considering the number of f-bombs found in a typical Bill Burr act. And given Burr’s characteristic onstage pessimism and crankiness, there were plenty of f-bombs to be had at the Colossal Stage that night.

Burr was also given plenty of reason to lean into the rage associated with his act. Between bits about the inappropriate murderous thoughts he has, the comic rubbed his hands and expressed his irritation with the night’s looming cold. To add fuel to the performance’s fire, a woman in the fifth row, close enough to see the comedian’s every move, watched the show by staring at the jumbo screens instead of Burr himself. As Burr tends to have a contentious relationship with his audiences — it’s kind of his brand — he called her out. “I’m closer than the fucking screen,” Burr said.

Distractions only barely in check, Burr ranted his way through his set, readying the crowd for his final bit, but it had reached 11 p.m., the Clusterfest curfew. Saturday ended on a unceremonious flat note.

— Danielle Guttierez

Kevin Hart

Kendrick Lamar’s hit “HUMBLE.” accompanied the confident comedian Kevin Hart onto the Colossal stage to perform a brand-new set. Hart has made a name for himself with a combination of physical humor and introspective source material — like most great comics, Hart is his own best critic.

In one story, Hart talked about discovering that, like himself, his wife also watches porn on a regular basis.

At only 5-feet-4-inches, Hart stands tall in personality. In past specials, the comic has repeatedly returned to mocking this vertical drawback and did so again with his new set. What could be stale source material is instead revamped and reopened by Hart, who brought fresh anecdotes depicting his, for lack of a better term, shortcomings.

In one story, Hart talked about discovering that, like himself, his wife also watches porn on a regular basis. He explains his anger when first confronted with this knowledge — why does she need it? — but upon further analysis, makes a swift turnaround.

“Why am I upset about this when I do the exact same thing?” Hart asked the crowd.

Armed with higher understanding, Hart then asked his wife to show him what kind of porn she watches. With concerning speed, his wife pulls out an iPad. While Hart repeats that he’s come around to her viewing of porn, he is comically jarred by the content she enjoys.

“They’re all tall dudes!” Hart exclaimed. “There was one where they weren’t even having sex. It was just a bunch of tall guys in a room being handy — changing lightbulbs, putting up picture frames … getting books from high shelves!”

Hart’s performance was as animated as ever before, but newly sober eyes have led to a shift in his content — stories of childhood have moved to that of his children and marriage.

“I’m on marriage number two. This one has to work,” Hart joked. “Otherwise I’m going to have to start looking at myself — it might be me.” Sit down Hart, it’s working for you.

— Audrey McNamara

Ice Cube

As the sun seton Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco’s quintessential icy cool fell over the audience gathered in front of Clusterfest’s Colossal Stage, an outdoor venue impressively backdropped by a glowing orange City Hall. The new chill was quickly noted by the first performer — opportunely named Ice Cube — though he certainly brought heat to the stage.

The crowd was led in a chant of “Fuck Ice Cube,” as he walked onstage. “You guys enjoyed that too much,” he said.

The proudly West Coast rapper and actor entered with an earned presence. Dressed in all black, Ice Cube opened his set with 2008’s “Do Ya Thang,” turning a cold cluster into a pleased crowd. As the Larkin Street traffic light moved from green to yellow to red, people danced in the street below.

He paid his respects to Tupac and Biggie before inviting the crowd to his gangsta nation

Once he finished with his first hit, Ice Cube spoke from the heart to the warmed-up crowd. He paid his respects to Tupac and Biggie before inviting the crowd to his gangsta nation — and they accepted. As the words “West Side Connection” were displayed up on the screen behind Ice Cube, screams of “West Coast, best coast” soon followed.  

“I know it’s time for me to go, I don’t fucking care, I’m having a good time I ain’t going nowhere,” he said as he neared the end of his set. Now dark outside, spotlights illuminated the audience. Ice Cube ended with “It was a Good Day” — and it was a good night.

— Audrey McNamara

Rachel Bloom

“All I can do is lay around, and post pictures of your dick on the internet,” mourned Rachel Bloom in the first song of her comedy set, “Pictures of Your Dick,” her break-up anthem co-written with Jack Dolgen. Bloom created and stars in the TV series “Crazy Ex Girlfriend,” every episode of which boasts original and comedic musical outbursts. Her signature style involves singing against gender expectations by means of the grotesque and ridiculous; her songs are best characterized by their mid-song spoken asides.

For her set, Bloom mixed together her older, more obscene songs with her hits from “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” — the opening notes of the latter resulted in immediate cheers from the crowd. After one non-show number about circumcision — entitled “Foreskin Angels” — a deep voice in the crowd yelled, “Circumcision is a human rights violation!” In response, Bloom perkily deadpanned that she does not share her opinions, wanting everyone to like her. True to form, Bloom often satirizes classic feminine tropes, like indecisiveness and agreeableness, to mock both the tropes and herself for ascribing to them.

Bloom opened up about her history with mental health and hormone problems, the latter of which result in severe breast pain for the performer. “I get it, boobs are sexy, but …” she started in the introduction of “Heavy Boobs,” before wholeheartedly apologizing for being unable to do the number’s entire boob-whipping choreography due to a current bout of such pain. Nevertheless, she pulled off her T-shirt and danced in her bra to the uptempo beat and the audience’s overwhelming applause.

Bloom also performed both “The OCDance!” which parodied her own habits from OCD, and “Sexy French Depression,” a critique of popular culture’s romanticization of depression. Engaging with her crowd, she called out, “Give me a half-hearted ‘eh’ if you have anxiety!”

— Caroline Smith

Nevertheless, she pulled off her T-shirt and danced in her bra to the uptempo beat and the audience’s overwhelming applause.

Fireside Chat with Kyle Kinane, Matt FX, James Davis and Natasha Leggero

“The weather here is the worst part about San Francisco. It’s so freezing,” Natasha Leggero said at a fireside chat with Kyle Kinane, James Davis and Matt FX on Saturday. “That and the disappearing middle class. But also, the rain,” deadpanned Kinane in return.

The three comedians — Leggero, Kinane and James Davis, the upcoming star of “Hood Adjacent” — along with DJ and “Broad City” music supervisor Matt FX — discussed their upcoming projects and reflected on the benefits of performing to San Francisco crowds.

“San Francisco’s my favorite place to do comedy,” said Leggero, star of Comedy Central’s “Another Period.” “Everyone’s smart, they’re very liberal, they get it. We all hate the same things,” she continued.

Hatred for, and mockery of, the president and his recent decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement characterized and informed several of the day’s comedy sets. The panel discussed Leggero’s 2011 prediction that “Pretty soon Donald Trump will turn the presidency into a reality show,” which was a line on “Reality ‘Stars’ ” from her comedy album, “Coke Money” — “I should get more credit for that,” she joked.

— Caroline Smith

Contact the Daily Cal Arts Staff at [email protected].

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