Laughs take center stage at San Francisco festival

Will comedy fans be drawn to a festival from Comedy Central and the organizers of the successful Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival?

Greg Allen/Invision/AP
Jerry Seinfeld performs at 'Stand Up for Heroes' at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 1, 2016, in New York.

Can the coming Colossal Clusterfest comedy event make its mark in the festival world?

Colossal Clusterfest, which will be held at the Civic Center Plaza and in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco June 2-4, will feature comedic superstars such as Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Hart as well as “Broad City” co-creators and stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson and musicians including Tegan and Sara and the Prince cover group Princess (half of which is former “Saturday Night Live” star Maya Rudolph).

Colossal Clusterfest is presented by Comedy Central and produced by Superfly, which also coproduces both Tennessee’s Bonnaroo (first held in 2002) and San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music & Arts Festivals. “Bonnaroo was early on incorporating comedy,” says Gary Bongiovanni, president and editor in chief of concert trade publication and database Pollstar. “They’ve been doing a comedy tent for a number of years and get extremely impressive comedians.” And Outside Lands, which is coproduced by Clusterfest associates Another Planet Entertainment, also has comedy. The ratio of comedians and musicians is flipped for Clusterfest, with comedy being the main attraction and music the support.

“It used to be comedians would play nightclubs except for [Las] Vegas,” Mr. Bongiovanni points out. “A new generation then headlined at theaters. These days, there are those who can fill arenas. Eddie Murphy showed that was possible.”

There are already traditional comedy festivals in cities such as Montreal; Melbourne, Australia; and Glasgow, Scotland. Clusterfest will blend stand-up, improv, live podcasting, and music offerings on five stages. Exhibit areas will be dedicated to TV shows “South Park,” “Seinfeld,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

“There’s definitely a market for major comedians in the live arena,” Bongiovanni observes. “And comedy has more of a universal appeal, whereas music has more defined genres.”

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