Now in its fourth year, Festival Supreme is well beyond its growing pains. The festival’s inaugural installment at the Santa Monica Pier saw a wealth of issues (e.g. overcrowding, sound, plumbing), but those were remedied when the comedy and music extravaganza moved to its current home at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall. Curated by Tenacious D, the festival began with an identity intact. Saturday’s event showed the fest in the final stages of fine-tuning.
One change this year was reducing the number of outdoor stages from two to one, adding a couple of carnival-style rides in its stead. And with mostly DJ sets in the Expo Hall, dubbed the Space Disco, there was less pressure to catch the wealth of acts booked. Even with most of the attention just on the outdoor music stage, Omega Stage, and the seated stand-up auditorium, Crab Nebula, neither felt overly crowded, and conflicts were relatively easy to solve. In all, the fest seemed well-planned and proportional to its ticket sales.
The festival changes themes every year, too, and this year incorporated an outer space motif. With the calendar date just a couple days before Halloween, this opened up the doors for loads of Star Wars, Star Trek, and other cosmic costumes. Spaceballs was even screened early in the day while Tenacious D performed in astronaut outfits for their Tenacious DJ set. It felt like the event knew its audience, with the fans embracing the theme more than in any other year, including last year’s Las Vegas run.
Knowing itself proved to be the operative word, and that’s why Festival Supreme and so many other niche events are finding success. Once Tenacious D figured out what fans wanted in a comedy and music fest (a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to enjoy top-tier talent), the festival was on its way to becoming one of the country’s premiere live entertainment events. Perhaps best is how comfortable it is in its own skin. It’s not about “growing” like so many other fests. Rather, Festival Supreme is about being better. It’s a roadmap that more festivals would benefit to follow.
The fans came out to laugh, and some aspects of the fest were more successful in inciting that than others. Check out our recap of the 10 best laughs Festival Supreme’s 2016 installment had to offer.
Ken Marino at The Music of Wet Hot American Summer
The downside to The Music of Wet Hot American Summer was that the sound was funky for most of the set. But it still packed in plenty of laughs, particularly when members of the film/tv series would pop in for cameos in the Craig Wedren-led group. Best was Ken Marino, who didn’t dress up in Victor’s curly haired wig, but still gave a heartfelt cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song”. He got the crowd to sing along with him, up until a pair of trees appeared from side-stage to chase him off. Even during the set’s closing number of “Higher and Higher”, Marino was difficult to take your eyes off as he recorded his friends Michael Showalter, David Wain, Joe Lo Truglio, and Marguerite Moreau play air guitar and do leg kicks. Sure, the spirit of the performance rose above the execution, but the Wet Hot American Summer team earned plenty of good graces.
Every year at Festival Supreme, Tenacious D make their presence felt. Part of this is in their billed performance, which this year was an early day DJ set as Tenacious DJ. They dressed as astronauts, spun space-themed tunes (Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic”, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 2001), and put on a goofy stage show with dancers. But both Jack Black and Kyle Glass also put their stamp on the festival. Black introduced Patton Oswalt, both bandmates played a part in recreating the Spelling Bee sketch from SNL for Will Forte’s set, and the band were seen throughout the day interacting with both fans and friends alike. While Festival Supreme draws fans of comedy in general, it’s also a celebration for Tenacious D’s diehards, and the duo make a point of giving them something special every year.
If this year’s Festival Supreme had an MVP, it was Maya Rudolph. First, she showed up to sing backup for Fred Armisen’s band, reprising her role from Documentary Now! Then she performed her actual set, appearing as Patti LaBelle and riffing off the singer by singing “Lady Marmalade” horribly and being frightened of Halloween costumes. Finally, she came back to assist Will Forte with his Spelling Bee skit. A friend of Jack Black’s since high school, Rudolph was the ultimate team player, doing more than her part to ensure that Festival Supreme provided special moments for the audience.
Though Will Forte offered up a bit of a greatest hits set, he would explain his choices and how they made sense with the time and place they were performed. Opening with Spelling Bee, a SNL skit from when Jack Black hosted, was a chance to bring out The D to recreate the moment. Then there was his SNL character Tim Calhoun, brought out to perform a bit of election-related material. And finally was his riffing on the music of James Ingram, presented because … well, actually, there was no real reason for that. It was just Forte being a weirdo, and the audience loved him for it.
Garfunkel and Oates
Even as one of the first acts of the festival and with Tenacious DJs playing opposite them, singing comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates still drew a sizable audience for their afternoon outdoor set, enough so that they were even taken back by it. Maybe it’s because they have songs like “The Loophole” and “29/31” that slay, but there’s more to the group than just funny tunes. There’s also a charm and showmanship to their performance, best displayed during “The BJ Song” when Kate Micucci hit her tooth on her microphone. The pair laughed it off as being in character, providing an unscripted punchline for those who already knew all the words.
Just like any Halloween party you attended, Festival Supreme had its share of Stranger Things outfits and a David S. Pumpkins, though it was surprisingly shy of other topical costumes, like Trumps, Hillarys, or Harley Quinns. But there were laughs to be had at the fans that really looked to the event’s bill for inspiration. There were a couple of Spaceballs-inspired get-ups, one dude that dressed up like Craft Punk, and even a Gene from Wet Hot American Summmer. Sometimes the audience needed to be reminded that they were not the ones on stage, just like any drunk crowd at a stand-up comedy night. But mostly the crowd accepted the challenge of making Festival Supreme immersive, where the show was everywhere you looked.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Tenacious D’s booking of Weird Al made complete sense, as Yankovic is probably the most recognizable comedic musician of all time. And even though he did appear as a surprise guest at the second Festival Supreme, having him do a proper set felt like an eventuality at the festival. Yankovic abbreviated the set he’s been taking around the world for the past couple years, mixing in recent material like “Foil” and “Word Crimes” with stone-cold classics like “Fat”, “Amish Paradise”, and “Smells Like Nirvana”. But the best thing about a Weird Al set happens off stage. It’s looking around at the faces of the audience watching him and seeing the unadulterated joy that his songs cause. Yankovic’s music is designed to cause an instant jolt of happiness, but against all odds, it’s wound up providing something much more enduring — and that’s pretty terrific to witness.
Many of the stand-ups at Festival Supreme went with characters or bits for their short sets, but Jenny Slate offered up a refreshing 20 minutes of well-thought-out routine. She goofed on the bright spotlight that followed her around and was at her best when getting personal about her family and upbringing. Provocative without being low-brow, Slate’s set hit what most in the audience seemed to be longing for: jokes that weren’t built around a greater concept. Sometimes simple is better.
Flight of the Conchords
When Tenacious D came up with the concept of Festival Supreme, initially intended to be called Monsters of Comedy Rock, their ideal bill was themselves, Spinal Tap, The Lonely Island, and Flight of the Conchords. It turned out none of them were available for that first year (though The Lonely Island did come out as a surprise guest), but they finally booked one of their ideal gets three years later.
And it was worth the wait. After taking several years off, the New Zealand-based duo quickly reminded the Los Angeles audience of what they’ve been missing. “Hurt Feelings” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” all landed as well as they did upon their release, while standout new song “The Seagull” provided one of the day’s comedic high points.
But maybe best was how the duo played off the setting. On “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)”, the two compared the beautiful girl to the beauty of the Los Angeles river, much to the amusement of the audience. And later, when a helicopter circled overheard, Jermaine Clement asked if he was supposed to pause the show. “What’s the protocol?” he asked. Even though most of the music required a certain familiarity to get the laughs, there was a vitality present in Flight of the Conchords that was comforting. Comedy is better for having them back, and hopefully their return will not be short-lived.
Listen: Many sets were strong at Festival Supreme. Really strong. So, it’s not meant as an insult when I say that Patton Oswalt blew everything else out of the water. The weight attached to the appearance, with the crowd well aware of the death of his wife six months earlier, set up Oswalt to triumph. He was warmly welcomed, with Jack Black introducing him and embracing him in a huge hug and the fans giving him a standing ovation just for showing up. But Oswalt didn’t shy away from the elephant in the room, discussing his wife’s passing and his life without her with both grace and wit. Maybe it’s therapeutic for Oswalt to turn his family’s tragedy into part of his set, but regardless, it turned a comedy festival into something far more poignant. “I’m doing much better these days, and a lot of it is thanks to you,” he told his fans, showing that one of the best contemporary comedic minds has not been defeated by circumstances. It was cause to cheer.
Click ahead for an exclusive gallery from Festival Supreme 2016.