Strange Bedfellows

Gov’t Mule’s 2007 late night set in This Tent stands as one of the greatest collaborative performances in the festival’s history. Over the course of the evening, Warren Haynes and Co. were joined by Luther Dickinson, Michael Franti, John Paul Jones, Bob Weir, and the folks from Hot Tuna. They also had one very unexpected, very profane guest: author, playwright, and Grammy-winning stand-up comic Lewis Black.

While the audience may have been a bit confused, Black’s appearance was in many ways a sign of the festival’s evolution and the expanding role of comedians on the scene. The comedy tent has become a fan favorite, routinely attracting enormous lines as Bonnaroo attendees wait to get out of the sun and enjoy a little laughter with their music.

But the performance relationship between the comics and the bands often goes deeper than simply sharing a venue. Since comedy has become a larger part of the festival’s repertoire, comedians and musicians have not only mingled backstage, but have also shared the stage in some of the more memorable and unusual collaborative moments.

Chris Rock’s introduction of Metallica at B’roo 2008 brought together two of the biggest acts to ever call the fields of Manchester home, while later that night Zach Galifianakis joined My Morning Jacket for a cover of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” to wrap up a four-hour, rain-soaked set. A few years later, at B’roo 2010, Margaret Cho took the stage along with Gwar for a bit of, um, “performance art.”

The musician/comedian bond is hardly unprecedented – Lenny Bruce shared billing with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore, Rick James and Eddie Murphy partied (all the time, as their 1985 hit single indicated), and more recently Jack Black and Steve Martin – both musical guests at Bonnaroo 2010 – have blurred the musician/comedian line to great acclaim.
 What’s led to this rich collaborative history? Shared love of the performing for an audience? Improvisational ability? Status as cultural outsiders? Or perhaps all of the above?

Before they took the stage together back in ‘07, Haynes and Black sat down with Bonnaroo.com and shared their thoughts on the similarities between comedy and music, on the collaborative process, and the on nature of their live performances. As Haynes explained, “most musicians are intrigued by comedians, and probably vice versa.”  Lewis Black, for his part, told us that “Once you have a rhythm established . . . comedy is music.” Both insist, though, that it’s all about “improv.”

Just For Fun

Our favorite examples of music and comedy intersecting.

Jimmy Fallon as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young.

And more fun…