It was once just fun and games for Tenacious D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass.
But the self-described “Court Jesters of Rock,” famous for their mock-rock lyrics about their musical superiority, sexual prowess, and pot use, knew they had to get serious when Trump was elected president in 2016.
“Truth be told, we had a whole different project planned,” Black tells SF Weekly. “But then when [Trump] won the election, Tenacious D headquarters were rocked severely. It felt like 9/11. It shook our foundation and was a super depressing time for us.”
“It really shook our fundation,” Gass, a Bay Area native from Walnut Creek, adds without missing a beat.
After taking a few months to get their bearings, the pair was convinced that it would be impossible to ignore the current political climate — what they regarded as a “post-apocalyptic nightmare” — and pen an album about anything else. So they got to work developing a protest project that would become 2018’s 21-track Post-Apocalypto album and companion six-episode animated YouTube series dubbed Tenacious D: Post-Apocalypto.
But how will the musical comedy translate to the stage when Tenacious D plays SF Masonic on Friday?
“A lot of people are saying it’s a rock opera akin to Pink Floyd’s The Wall,” Black says. “It’s X-rated but animated, so it doesn’t go under the same rules as your everyday pornography. If it’s cartoon full penetration, you can get away with a little more.”
“This is the homecoming,” adds Gass. “It’s always fun to play the hometown. Plus the Bay Area is a great progressive area, so it’s going to go over well.”
Tenacious D: Post-Apocalypto — written, directed, hand-drawn, and voice-acted by Black and Gass — starts out uneventfully enough, with the two band members and friends sitting on a couch, playing video games and discussing the merits of fiber bars.
But the pair can’t hide out from the world’s ills for long. So when their landlord comes knocking at their door demanding rent, they make a break for it, jumping into a refrigerator, which transports them to a post-apocalyptic wasteland, ravaged by global warming and nuclear war.
While fending off penis-shaped monsters, randy cavewomen, space colonists, Nazis, Klansmen, and Donald Trump Jr. in their new nightmarish reality, they come to understand that it’s their obligation to save not just themselves but also all of humanity from destruction.
“We saw an opportunity to indulge in one of our favorite genres — the post-apocalyptic cinematic history that’s rich with rad movies like Mad Max 2 and The Matrix,” says Black. “So we said, ‘Let’s do a cool, animated post-apocalyptic musical comedy to address the situation.’”
In it, Black and Gass tackle the issues they believe pose the most immediate threats to human civilization: global warming, toxic masculinity, prejudice, income inequality, and corporate greed.
“Apocalypto,” which bookends the movie, is a fine fight song, but the standout track from the project is definitely “Colors.” Sung by a fictionalized Donald Trump Jr., the poignant track conveys Don Jr.’s regret for seeing the world in black and white and bottom lines — without compassion for others or the environment — as well as the irrevocable toll that conservative closed-mindedness has taken on our world. Without racial diversity and biodiversity, the planet has become a sad, dry, and gray dystopia.
If the Department of Homeland Security still used color-coded terror alerts to determine threat level, Trump would be regarded as an orange or high-risk danger to everything the world holds dear, according to Tenacious D.
“But the rise of this sort of fascist instinct to build a wall — it’s not just the Orange Menace or the United States,” adds Black. “It’s Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Around the world, it’s a fever. It’s jingoistic. It’s a fear of invasion. It’s xenophobia and a Fear of a Black Planet and ‘We’ve gotta get rid of those nasty others.’ It’s a thing that happens before the cataclysmic world war.”
If there’s an obvious moral to this story, Black says it in the animated movie: “Fuck the video games. Life’s too short.” The inference here is that everyone else should follow suit and engage with the world’s problems if they’re ever to be solved.
Tenacious D may not have been the obvious option for a political project like this, but that’s what, in their minds, makes them the perfect choice.
“It just feels like it’s time for the serious clown,” Black says. “The reality of our world right now is like a dark comedy. Our president is laughably terrifying, so we are perfectly situated and suited to take on the mantle because we’re clowns. I feel like it’s our responsibility to say, ‘Yeah, it’s fucking dark, ridiculous, and laughable how shitty our president is and how fucked up the world is becoming.’”
“We’re the court jesters of rock,” says Gass, “and this is an absurdist farce.”
It’s the ongoing opportunities to work on exciting projects like Post-Apocalypto that’s kept the pair together for 25 years — even after Black’s acting career skyrocketed as a result of memorable roles in 2000’s High Fidelity, 2003’s School of Rock, 2005’s King Kong, and 2006’s Nacho Libre.
Plus, Black and Gass (the 2014 Grammy winners for Best Metal Performance for their cover of Ronnie James Dio’s “The Last In Line”) enjoy the greater creative control they can exercise with Tenacious D.
“We write and direct all the content and it’s a time for us to really be who we are as opposed to a puppet in someone else’s production,” Black says. “We have real concepts like Post-Apocalypto and it’s exciting to have a project that’s a long-term thing. It’s all part of one long Cervantes-style Don Quixote story of two guys who think they’re rock stars, but they’re really just weird old men that are deluded. It’s fun to keep it going.”
Friday, Oct. 25, 8 p.m., SF Masonic, 1111 California St. $59.50, sfmasonic.com