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Clusterfest Marred by Logistical Blunders

Zack Ruskin

2019, JUNE 24th

On Friday night, headliner Amy Poehler largely ceded her stage time to local artists such as the all-female Oakland dance troupe Mix’d Ingrdnts, Bay Area transgender comic Nori Reed — seriously, someone, give her a special — and former Punch Line regular Janine Brito.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s logistical nightmare, everyone seemed to have a theory as to what went wrong.

Was it because after having the main stage outdoors for the past two years, Clusterfest organizers opted to move it inside (and thus cap its capacity)? Or, unlike last year’s South Park carnival, was it because there was no outdoor activity or installation in place to keep a portion of the crowd occupied? Should blame be placed on security’s selective enforcement of an unannounced rule with respect to saving seats and staying in place for multiple shows?

The answer is, well, yes. All those things played in role Saturday night when an over-capacity Bill Graham Civic Center allowed everyone who’d just seen comedian Chelsea Peretti to keep their seats for headliner John Mulaney. This meant everyone in line outside was forced to wait two more hours.

It’s quite likely that many of those in line had planned on catching Mulaney and then leaving the festival entirely to enjoy the rest of their Saturday night. To no one’s surprise, Twitter quickly filled with complaints from people outside — as well as from fans inside, who warned the building was dangerously overcrowded. To add insult to injury, the whole scenario left a woefully small crowd for Australian rocker Courtney Barnett, who was simultaneously putting on one of the best sets the Bay Area has seen in some time.

Fans in Line on Saturday at Clusterfest (Credit: Josh Withers).jpg
On Sunday, the crowd was notably lighter. Despite the fact that headliners Patton Oswalt and My Favorite Murder (a hit true crime comedy podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark) each only performed once inside Bill Graham — John Mulaney’s back-to-back sets had been identical — there was no evidence of overcrowding or disappointed guests denied entry. This means that the real issue with Saturday was an inability to assign ticket holders to one of John Mulaney’s two shows beforehand to ensure an even distribution. Had that occurred, it’s possible there would’ve been no issue whatsoever.

The worst part of Saturday’s issues is that they overshadowed an incredibly diverse and celebratory weekend of comedy. On Friday night, headliner Amy Poehler largely ceded her stage time to local artists such as the all-female Oakland dance troupe Mix’d Ingrdnts, Bay Area transgender comic Nori Reed — seriously, someone, give her a special — and former Punch Line regular Janine Brito. The comics paired with Mulaney on Saturday evening included the Taiwanese-American Sheng Wang and gay Latino comedian Julio Torres. When the brilliant Patton Oswalt closed the festival on Sunday night, it was with support from three queer comics: Fortune Feimster, Matteo Lane, and Irene Tu. Each of them was sublime.

Diversity is obviously not a bingo card to be stamped and approved, but the offerings at Clusterfest this year should be applauded for featuring such a strong showing of comedians that weren’t straight, white males. (Colin Jost had that demo covered all on his own.) If they can get their logistics squared away — reservations are not your friend, Clusterfest — they should be able to survive their shortcomings from Saturday and carry forward a worthwhile mission of showcasing what’s today’s comedy scene truly looks like.

Also, Clusterfest broke some major ground by partnering with cannabis dispensary Moe Green’s.

Trixie Mattel in Romy and Michele live read on Sunday (Credit: Jack Gorlin).jpg
Clusterfest 2019 Notebook:

Amy Poehler and Fred Armisen discussed the corpse problem on Everest as part of an informal conversation that opened the festival. Their ease with one another led to some charmingly bizarre topics, including Poehler’s affinity for CPAP machines.
SNL’s Chris Redd was brilliant as Murray during a live read of Clueless. Props as well to Quinta Brunson, who was amazing as at least four different characters.
R U Talkin’ R.E.M. RE: ME? podcast co-host Scott Aukerman appeared at ease asking surprise guest (and R.E.M. guitarist) Peter Buck some deliciously uncomfortable questions.
Saturday headliner John Mulaney recalled recording his first album at the Punch Line before noting that he “strongly urge(s) whoever is in charge of not doing dumb ass shit” to save the venue.
As noted earlier, Australia’s Courtney Barnett achieved rock deity status during her sunset slot at the (ironically named) Colossal Stage. Later on Saturday, the “just add MDMA” mash-up stylings of Girl Talk made for a raucous party for the few who opted to stick around.
Drag queens Trixie Mattel and Katya joined with comedian Matteo Lane to masterfully recreate the choreography at the climax of Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion during a live reading of the film.
During a live episode of the immensely popular My Favorite Murder podcast, co-host Karen Kilgariff shared the infamous local story of the Mitchell Brothers. Special guest Patton Oswalt joined to review the sordid details behind Castro District murderer the Doodler.
Tig Notaro now uses a piano at some point in her set and it was probably the best thing that happened all weekend.
Clusterfest ended with a brand-new (at least to these ears) hour of material from Patton Oswalt. Be excited.

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