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Tenacious in their allegiances

June 13, 2004|Peter Gilstrap | Special to The Times

He's young, gifted and Black -- Jack Black. And last week the actor-musician was both giving and receiving. In addition to nabbing the prize for best comedic performance at the MTV Movie Awards, his schedule included two benefit shows, one for the Drug Policy Alliance on Thursday at the Skirball Cultural Center, the other for Concerts for Kerry on Sunday at the Knitting Factory. Black appeared with his partner Kyle Gass as the mighty musical duo Tenacious D, headlining the primarily stand-up comedy of both events.

The Drug Policy Alliance benefit was hosted by Un-Cabaret's Beth Lapides, who set the tone by announcing: "I love pot." Though many in the room apparently shared her sentiments, the mood-enhancing substance of choice among the roughly 200 well-heeled attendees was good old-fashioned (and legal) alcohol. Bongs did not serve as centerpieces, and the $350-a-plate snacks were tasteful, dainty baskets of cheese, fruits and crackers, a far cry from the traditional Doritos with a cookie-dough back.

The proceedings were, after all, dedicated to the DPA's mantra that "the war on drugs is a laughing matter," and big-name talent such as Bill Maher, Kevin Nealon, Arianna Huffington and Jerry Stahl were on hand to push the message through hilarity. "I don't usually do this kind of stuff," said writer and ex-junkie Stahl, "but the DPA is a great organization. They're fighting to keep people from being penalized for the disease of addiction, and I think the night walked the right line between passionate and hilarious. Which pretty much sums up half the addicts I know."

While the DPA benefit drew a middle-aged crowd, the Concerts for Kerry fundraiser attracted a group that looked barely old enough to vote. But old enough they were, not only to vote (registration was available next to the "Kerry for President" T-shirts and "Unidos con Kerry" bumper stickers for sale) but to drink. One bartender revealed that the top cocktails of the night were "Bloody Marys, whiskey and Cuervo, classic liquor" -- beverages that sound almost, well, Republican.

Drinks aside, pro-Democrat sentiments ran high, sometimes neck and neck with love for the D. "I'm here to support Tenacious D and John Kerry. In that order," gushed a fan named Erica, attending with her friend Desiree, both 21. "We're not big into politics," she continued, "but if I had to pick Bush over Kerry I'd pick Kerry all the way."

"I pick Kerry 'cause my dad's a Democrat, so I have to go with what he does," Desiree said. And, of course, the night's talent lineup, including Bob Odenkirk, Nealon and Laura Kightlinger, agreed with Desiree's dad.

"What brought me here was really just a place to perform. It's tough to find in Hollywood," joshed ex-"Saturday Night Live" "Weekend Update" anchor Nealon. "No, I'm behind Kerry, and I want to do what I can to get him in office."

"I'm impressed by Kerry's record, and his years in office, and his choices in his life," Odenkirk offered. "He's got a lot of integrity. I know a lot of conservatives accuse him of flip-flopping on issues, but I feel like he's done a very hard job. To be a successful politician you have to negotiate. Bush didn't have to face that, because he was basically supported by his dad's friends."

And then it was time. Introduced by surprise guest Andy Richter, Black and Gass -- Tenacious D -- took the stage and wasted no time in flinging down the gauntlet. "If we rock hard enough, John Kerry will win!" roared the bearded Black, wearing a "Vote Kerry" T-shirt, apparently the same one he sported at the MTV awards. The Rubenesque balladeers slammed into a short set of blistering acoustic songs, tales of epic sexual gamesmanship, sorcery and allegorical battles with beasts of evil, all featuring themselves as the central theme.

"Unfortunately, we don't have any songs about John Kerry," Black said. "They're all about us. But I'll be thinking about Kerry's total awesomeness. I might throw his name in a couple of the old songs."

Black didn't need any name-dropping to win over the crowd. With a voice that falls somewhere between light opera and heavy Top 40, and backed by Gass' wicked guitar prowess, the D wowed the Dems with covers of REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You" and the Beatles' "You Never Give Me Your Money." As he bowed to the worshipful throng, his mighty, sweat-soaked stomach pushing his Gibson guitar at the crowd, it was hard not to wonder if perhaps it's time for another actor to turn politician.

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