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.
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.
Clusterfest 2019 Notebook:
2019 has seen a noticeable increase in collective action efforts by tech workers.
San Francisco’s Alexander Design is blazing a trail as a modern dispensary designer.