A “Happy Endings” reunion. A private tour of the Met Breuer. A “Rent” singalong. A Q&A with Kermit the Frog.
Those are just some of the more than 30 events dreamed up for last year’s Vulture Festival.
The four-year-old pop culture extravaganza returns to Milk Studios from May 20 to 21 for more unique experiences in television, film, music, art, books and podcasts. The full schedule won’t be released until mid-April, but Vulture editor Jesse David Fox promised this year’s event will have plenty of silliness.
amNewYork spoke with Fox about how the festival comes together.
What was the mission for the festival, and how has that evolved?
The most basic vision is taking the site and making it into a thing that’s three-dimensional. Essentially, what if Vulture was a festival? What would that mean? We really just create a thing that our readers can interact with. On the most basic level, the goal was to connect artists with their fans.
How would you describe your typical reader?
A typical reader is pop-culture obsessive — people who take pop culture very seriously. They’re incredibly enthusiastic, in a way that is also taste-focused. They’re not just, ‘I like TV.’ They’re people who liking the show that they like is defining for them. This may be an antiquated analogy, because everyone now uses dating apps, but when people used to use dating websites, I feel like there’s a type of person that the first thing they would do is they look in the TV and movies section, books. They are those people.
How has the festival grown and evolved over the years?
The first year, like anything, when you don’t know what it is, people don’t know what type of thing they’re going to. It’s harder to pitch the talent. That’s a thing we expected. We made sure to do the type of events which would fit the word of mouth both in terms of the type of people we wanted to come, and the type of people we wanted to be on the bill. So then the second year, I think we doubled the amount of events — we got Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Poehler. I think we doubled the events again in the third year, which was even a surprise to us. There was a real excitement to be a part of the festival. What we were finding out was we were starting to be built into certain plans, people were pitching us and wanted to be a part of it. With each year, we’re also refining the sensibility of the festival, and I think this year is even further in that direction. This year it’s really about refining the type of things that we can do with an event. For me, it’s making sure that we’re pairing the right director with the right writer on the site. If we’re doing a reunion, it’s making sure that it’s the type of reunion that our readers would like. It’s making sure it’s the type of event you could only see at Vulture Festival, and it won’t make sense in any context but Vulture Festival. We do this thing called Animated Voices — we have voice talent from major animated shows read scenes from film and TV history — and that’s always been a really fun and bizarre and cool thing we do every year. We do trivia game shows and pit casts against each other. Last year we interviewed Kermit the Frog — the Muppet, not the guy who’s in it. We had Broadway actors and actresses come and sing “Rent” songs in a large room of super fans. We want the festival to feel like Vulture — we need to have these deeply knowledgeable interviews, and also silly things that are also taken very seriously.
When you’re staring at a blank page, where do you start when planning the festival?
In September or October, I have a meeting with the Vulture editorial staff, and the New York magazine critics. We’re just like, give us ideas. They don’t have to necessarily be quirky, weird ideas at first, just things that are coming out that would be exciting. And either I would figure out the way of framing it, or we’ll just go directly to the talent and see if they have a way in which they’d want to do the event.
Is there anything you wanted to experiment with this year in terms of format or category?
This year a goal was to have more movie presence. We ended up getting a lot of TV last year, which was great, and I would say with confidence we do have more of a movie presence. I think broadly, what we were trying to go for were things that walked the line of performance and informative. It’s a show, but you’re also still going to be learning about the talent. And just generally, I’m trying to get more people singing. If they’re in a room, I might as well have them singing, I don’t know what it is about me.
In the past, what ways have the talent been involved in planning the event that really excited you?
Last year’s table read for “Difficult People” was definitely a first. It felt like the idea was somewhat of a collaboration. They figured out what episode to do, and got all the people to show up. Nathan Lane — he was a small guest part of this episode, and he came to read his four lines. And we had Amy Poehler reading stage directions. That was a real example of collaboration. The Muppets was a collaboration — there are such restrictions in how the Muppets can actually move, we had to figure out a very elaborate camera screen setup. We had 90 minutes — that’s a lot of time where you can do different acts. Instead of just an audience Q&A, we had all these B-list Muppets and gave them to people and did a sing-along to “Chumbawamba.” They’re creative people, and have a say in terms of how they think it would work visually.
Anything with this year’s festival you can share as you’re gearing up to announce the schedule?
I can promise this year has a lot of very silly ideas that people have said yes to, and I’m very excited. And also, very serious ideas that will come to be. There is a very silly idea, and at the same time the most serious person we have invited. That’s the thing with Vulture, essentially we’re trying to expand what the tonal reaches are.