Tenacious D Interview: Jack Black and Kyle Gass Preview Their Santa Monica Pier Comedy Fest
Four stages, seven hours, one of the most impressive gatherings of musical-comedy acts ever assembled (plus Neil Hamburger). On Saturday October 19, Tenacious D's inaugural Festival Supreme brings the likes of Adam Sandler, the Mr. Show Experience, Monty Python's Eric Idle, Sarah Silverman, Reggie Watts and many more together on the Santa Monica Pier.
The Greatest Band in the World turned Greatest Festival Organizers in the World phoned up to talk logistics, lineups and artistic legacies.
How go the preparations for Festival Supreme?
Jack Black: It's insane! Not all is champagne at the Skybar. It's not all unicorns and rainbows. You've got to crack a lot of skulls. You've got to crack a lot of whips. You've got to stay on people. My ear's hurting from cellular heat. We've got to make sure that the foods are delicious and nutritious. We don't want it to be the usual things, so we're talking to the vendors about the different options and all the prices. Making sure that everything's succulent but yet organic.
Kyle Gass: We have to come up with names for the cocktails.
What are some of the leading names so far?
Black: I think the drinks names have to be a surprise when you get there and you get to the bar, and you see the names of the drinks.
Gass: Unless...you can promise us a [L.A. Weekly] cover.
That might be out of my hands.
Gass: You drive a tough bargain.
Black: But that's the thing. When you curate a festival, one of the jobs is to think of fantastic drink names that are appropriate. And you've got to make sure that those toilets are scrubbed clean, pay the extra money to have the most pleasurable trips to the abode possible, and I mean squeaky clean. I want them to smell good! This is important! We've been to hundreds of festivals, and these are the things that we walk around, going, "You know, if someone would have just done this and that..." So this is the time where we have to say, "Okay, let's not do all the things that they don't do right!"
Gass: Spare no expense!
Was that the primary goal you had in mind when setting this up?
Black: Well, it's kind of like throwing a party. You want it to be the most pleasurable experience for everyone. You don't want to ever let the ball drop, so a lot of the planning is just with schedule and looking at the lineup, and shuffling the cards over and over so you go, "Oh yeah, this flows nicely into that, these people belong in a tent, this person's comedy is going to do better in an intimate setting so put them over there, this comedy is obviously big band, big explosions, so put them on the open-air stage." It's a lot of dealing with the artists' needs. A lot of the artists have a lot of needs and want to talk a lot about the things they want to do. There's a lot of building happening for certain people. Some people have choreography; we've got to make sure that they're going to be safe and well taken care of.
Gass: In terms of the lineup, we just made a wish list of who's the greatest comedian/musical performers that we know. And most of them are doing it.
Black: You're not going to be able to see everything. You'll have to make some tough choices. But if you plan correctly, you will be able to see the perfect festival for you. That's the way festivals work, though. Sometimes you've got to make Sophie's Choice. You're going to go see Sarah Silverman, or you're going to go check out Tim Minchin, or whatever the choice may be.
See also: 10 Best Stand-Up Comedy Shows in L.A.
Gass: He might have been our hardest booking. It's hard to get a hold of him.
Sure, with him not having a phone or computer. Is there any hint to what role he might be playing in the Festival, or who some of the "Mega Mystery Guests" might be?
Gass: Well, if the cover comes through, all of these secrets will be revealed. And we would love to tell you.
Black: I don't think we can give them even with the cover.
Gass: Yeah, you're right.
Black: It's a secret. We're legally binded by that secret. But it's safe to say that the Mega Mystery will be revealed at the end of the night. But it's big. It's Mega.
Up next: How Eric Idle got involved
You have some huge gets: Adam Sandler -- I assume he's going to be performing some classic songs. And Eric Idle -- how did he come on board?
Black: We just invited him. I sent him a superbly crafted email, and I told him what our plans were, and what the Festival was going to be like, and also told him how influential he's been to all the artists on that stage and it wouldn't be the same without him. He said yeah, but he also asked me to come over to his house and talk to him about something. I'm a little concerned. It's too late for him to pull out, but I don't know what he's going to say.
Gass: Wow! A special summit meeting, huh?
Black: Yeah. I don't know what it is. He might want to talk about pyrotechnics.
From all your years touring with him, what is the angriest you have ever seen an audience become at Neil Hamburger?
Gass: I think when we were in London and he was having some fun with Princess Di.
Black: Yeah, they didn't take too friendly to that. I think he sustained some injuries, actually. Things were thrown at him.
Gass: They were throwing some coins. Some shillings.
Black: And he was holding, like, eight alcoholic beverages at the time, and I think one of them shattered in his hands. He was okay, but he was battered and bruised. He is the funniest and most infuriating stand-up comic alive. He's going to be headlining the One Man Tent. That's our smallest stage, our most intimate venue. Only one audience member allowed in at a time, and only for 30 seconds. You get 30 seconds alone with Neil Hamburger, and that should be quite an experience.
Gass: Line up early for that one. Because that one's going to fill up fast. In fact, if we did the math, thousands of people and 30 seconds, there's really literally not enough time. It's going to be a very special performance.
Black: Every 30 seconds, though, that's a lot of people if you did it for a few hours.
Gass: Well, 1000 people would take you 500 minutes, so...that would be...that's about it right there.
Black: You're right. Okay. But like I said, not everyone's going to see everything, but if you make it a priority, you'll see it. Also we're going to have a art gallery filled with hilarious art. We're excited about that. An amazing guy that we've worked with named Truck [Torrence] has about 80 paintings that he's going to unleash that have been making us laugh for years and are finally releasing to the public. Might be the highlight of the festival.
Gass: We're interested in finding different ways to make you laugh.
Black: We've got some performance art coming at you with Dynasty Handbag, a phenom from New York who blew our minds down at Chinatown. We had to have her in the fest.
There's The Gregory Brothers, who do Auto-Tune the News.
Black: I've never seen them live, but I just marvel at their incredibly catchy and hilarious jams.
Gass: We have The Mighty Boosh. Very exciting having them come in from The UK. Haven't performed in a while.
Considering Eric Idle, The Mighty Boosh and even Mr. Show at this point, we're talking some serious, kind of classic comedy idols here. Not only is there something artistically for everyone, it's all multiple generations being represented, too.
Gass: Well, we're working with Santa Monica College so you might be able to get college credit just for going to the festival.
Under what discipline?
Gass: Comedy. Comedy history. History of Comedy 101.
Up next: Tenacious D's 20th anniversary
Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny
Segueing from that, next year is the 20th anniversary of the first Tenacious D gig. How have you seen the LA comedy landscape change in that time?
Black: Well, that place we played is no longer standing. Al's Bar is gone. Um, besides that...everything's in HD now, so that's different. But we've always been kind of outsiders to the comedy scene. We came in as a band and we were kind of invited in by Mr. Show to play some shows and a friend of ours, Laura Milligan, invited us to do some shows with comedy acts, so we sort of mixed in with them. But we were never really one of them. We still don't really have our finger on the pulse of the comedy scene. We just know who we love.
Gass: We're like a rogue satellite circling the comedy universe.
[Black speaks to an alarm-company rep in the background.]
Black: Sorry. There's a lot of angry comedians that didn't get into the festival, so I had to get a new alarm system. You know hell hath no fury like a comedian scorned.
That's exactly the sort of gossip LA Weekly likes to put on the cover.
Gass: Now you're talking!
See also: 12 L.A. Comedy Acts to Watch in 2013
Any new albums or other projects on the horizon following Festival Supreme?
Black: We've got some titles. And we've got some concepts. But now all we need to do is write some songs. 'Cause we have zero songs. But yeah, we're planning on going the distance.
Gass: We're not going to stop. They tried to stop us. We said no.
Black: I take inspiration from some of these old artists who, like, cracked through and hit their stride in their sixties and seventies. I don't put too much stock in that whole, "Oh, when you're in your twenties, that's when your best music happens." That just seems like the lazy way out. I think you can do your best stuff in your sunset years as long as you're willing to go deep. You've gotta go deep. You've gotta get painful! This next album's gonna get really fuckin' painful.
Get the Theater
Your weekly guide to local culture with calendar listings and theater, dance, and comedy reviews.