This Fall, legendary musical comedy duo Tenacious D—Golden Globe-nominated Jack Black and partner Kyle Gass—throw their second massive music and comedy festival Saturday October 25 at the Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds in Los Angeles. Festival Supreme will feature dozens of acts including a re-union of the cast The State, Cheech & Chong, Workaholics, Margaret Cho, Eagles of Death Metal, Jenny Slate and of course, a performance by the D.
Around since 1994, Black and Gass’ rockingly absurdist, often vulgar acoustic guitar act has insane credentials. Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl played on all three albums Tenacious D, The Pick of Destiny, and Rize of the Fenix. They got a key break on HBO and rose to fame opening for Beck, Pearl Jam, and Foo Fighters.
Hit singles like “Tribute” “F*ck Her Gently” and “Wonderboy” sound off-the-cuff, but it’s a high-wire act. It’s difficult to make acting dumb look easy, and the duo comes from an informed, knowing, tightly rehearsed place. Both honed their chops in the L.A. theatre scene in the early ’90s. The musical comedians met oversees on tour with different troupes. Black was a child actor and drama kid who dropped out of UCLA to perform. Gass was born in Castro Valley, CA. and also appeared in commercials as a child. The two initially disliked each other, but soon formed an unholy alliance.
Tenacious D helped launch a film career for Black—who has earned multiple Golden Globe nominations, with key appearances in High Fidelity, School of Rock, Tropic Thunder and Bernie. CULTURE caught up with Black and Gass as they drove to a jam session on a recent Tuesday morning.
Festival Supreme sounds so big. How do you two divide the working duties?
Gass: I do everything. Booking. I take tickets. I write the songs for everybody’s set and then Jack slaps his name on it and calls it a day. Is that fair? Maybe not. I don’t know.
[Jack Black enters the conference call]
Black: I want to know everything that’s been said.
Kyle said you just slap your name on Festival Supreme and he does all the work.
Black: God damn it!
Gass: What did I say? I said, “Stop this interview. I’m not doing it without Jack.”
Black: I don’t believe you for an instant.
Can you give us a taste of your plans for Festival Supreme this year?
Black: It’s going really well. We got an incredible lineup and we’re building what no one has ever seen before.
It’s kind of a haunted park carnival with amusement park rides designed by some of the greatest artists in Los Angeles. Like a Tunnel of Love. Have you ever been in a Tunnel of Love? . . . Then you know that it’s not really about love it’s about terror and bringing loved ones closer to you when you’re in the midst of it.
Gass: I always found love can be very terrifying.
Black: Kyle, it sounds like you’re inside a toaster oven or something. Did you wrap your cell phone inside a sock?
Gass: How’s this? I took it off speaker and now I’m driving illegally with my candy bar phone on my head.
Black: Pull over immediately. That’s precious cargo you got going around there. Sometimes it’s worth the brain radiation. Times like these, you say “F*ck it, bring the brain cancer. Bring it.”
Any lessons learned from throwing Festival Supreme #1 in 2013?
Black: The main lesson is have better toilets. We promised people an excellent toiletry experience the first time and we completely failed. I want to blame it all on Santa Monica Pier and I’m going to blame it all on Santa Monica Pier.
Gass: Well, at least water. They didn’t supply us with water for our toilets.
All those comedians and musicians backstage must have been a scene. Tell us something no one knows.
Black: It was a pretty amazing reunion of sorts. When you have 30-plus incredible comedians, they all know each other already, so it was a real party. I did have to physically restrain Andy Dick at one point who was trying to destroy the festival from the inside. But I was able to contain the damage. I love the guy. I invited him. That was another lesson I learned—don’t invite Andy Dick. Unless he really . . . I’m hoping he really cleaned up his act and he’ll participate in Festival Supreme in 2015. We’ll see. He’s in the dog house right now. What else happened backstage, Gauge?
Gass: You don’t want to call anyone out. You don’t want to—oh, I mean I saw Adam Sandler do heroin before he went on.
Black: Kyle! That’s not—look, you give them what they want, but you’re right. There are places you shouldn’t go.
Gass: OK. I didn’t see nothing. Nothing happened.
Tenacious D is doing all the booking,
what do you guys look for in acts?
Black: We look for the funniest people alive and also the most talented, exciting musicians and performance artists and visual artists. It’s just basically our favorite people. It’s a lot like throwing a party.
Gass: The irony is we pick out all our favorites and make the best festival for us. And then you end up not being able to see that much.
Tell us about booking Cheech & Chong—your first experience with them and how they might have informed your
Black: Well, I believe it was the first movie I went to see in a theater as a child. My dad took me to Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke, which in retrospect was kind of a poor parenting choice, but I don’t know, let’s do the math.
I was born in 1969, when did that movie come out? ’79? ’78? Yeah I was like eight or nine years old, but it was hilarious. Inappropriate? Whatever. I was laughing a lot. And it definitely sunk into my
subconscious and then informed a lot of my “Tenacious“ decisions.
Did you realize later in your career as a student that these guys were L.A. improv veterans who were making it look easy?
Black: Yeah. When we were coming up in the early days of the D in the mid-to-late ‘90s, we were just doing it for free. For the love of the game. We didn’t really have eyes on the gigantic prize that we ended up winning. Every show was just like a fiery hoop.
I never really thought, “Oh, what would Cheech and Chong do in this situation,” but now that you mention it, when I think back, yeah. It had to be a lot like that. They were just partying and having a good time in the ‘70s. That was a wild era. And did they think about The Smothers Brothers before them? Maybe a little, but you just sort of take what’s inside of you and do what you think is funny.
Really, while we were doing it we were thinking, “This is like nothing anyone’s ever done.” Later afterward, you go, “Oh, wait a sec, oh yeah Cheech & Chong,” and, “Oh, Smothers Brothers.” But at the time you’re not going, “How can I steal from those earlier masters?” It’s just something that accidentally happens.
Kyle, you said you like Workaholics. What is it about them that attracts you?
Gass: They just have a really kind of absurd tone that I like. They’re kind of edgy. They’re taking chances all over the place and they’re just very funny. They’re not afraid to be really, really dumb too, I think.
Workaholics often have herb in the background of the show. What’s your high history?
Gass: I’m trying to lose 100 pounds, so I am pretty straight edge. I’ve been trying to keep everything geared toward weight loss right now, but it’s good to see that it’s becoming legal across the country.
It’s trending and I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime. It’s interesting. Growing up, weed was a felony and it probably still is in some parts of the country. It’s been fun to watch it kind of quickly, as these things go, in a relatively short span of time, be decriminalized. It’s got so many uses for so many people who need it.
Black: I’m having trouble remembering my first time. It was a big part of me and Kyle’s early days when we were jamming . . .
Gass: We would definitely use it as a tool. It’s definitely a tool to loosen up the ear and get some creative jamming going. But then sometimes we wouldn’t [smoke] and then we’d smoke
before we played it back. We called it “Stony Playback.” So we tried to get some good jamming in with our senses in the clear. It definitely informed some of our music, for sure. But musicians and marijuana is time-honored. I think Louis Armstrong was the biggest stoner of all time.
Black: Stony Playback! And then we would do another jam for a little while longer after stony playback and it would sometimes enhance, but sometimes totally kills the session.
Gass: You roll the dice.
Black: A lot of times when you get high it seems super-duper funny and then after you realize—NOPE. Now, we’re pretty much stone-cold sober, which I know is a buzzkill for all the folks that happen to be reading this at medical marijuana locations. But we’ve undergone a change.
And it’s funny now, when we play the songs about getting stoned, I always feel a little bit hypocritical, because, I’m like, ‘I’m not going to smoke a joint with any of you after the show’, but I still have to sing the songs. I’m in support of legalization absolutely.
What do you say to Tenacious D fans who would love to hear another album?
Black: It’s coming.
Gass: We have, I think, four more records to go on our record deal, and I’m hoping to finish before we expire.
Extra Secret Special Intel
Can you tell CULTURE readers something no one knows about Tropic Thunder?
Black: Um. Um. Uh—what can I tell you that no one knows?
We were in Hawaii and we had a sweet little pad by the beach and it was awesome, but every
morning we got in a Jeep, and drove out to the set. And it was in the center of the island of Kauai, and it was
There was lots of mud and river banks you had to drive through, and lots of ups and downs. It was a two-hour drive and it was a real adventure getting to the set every day.
But, Ben Stiller would fly in on a helicopter. . . .
I did hitch a ride with him a couple times. It was pretty badass.