In Louis C.K.‘s latest HBO special Oh My God, there’s a funny observational bit where he tells of attending his young daughter’s dance recital. He notices that every single doting parent, instead of just purely watching their children perform, watched through the filters of their camera phones. The moms and dads were obstructing their own vision of their child with their phones, cameras and iPads, “Everybody’s watching a shitty movie of something that’s happening ten feet (from their faces)…like, look at your fucking kid! The resolution on the kid is UNBELIEVABLE if you just look. It’s totally HD.” Louis deftly goes on about the absurdity of it all. Portland, starting this Thursday, April 18th (through Sunday, April 21st), you’ll get the chance to see over 200 hundred comedians in HD, as in LIVE and IN PERSON.
The Bridgetown Comedy Festival was started by comedians Matt Braunger and Andy Wood (both are based in Los Angeles but have Portland ties) in 2008. Since its inception, it’s become a highlighted annual event in Portland and a respected festival within the comedy circuit. The lineup changes each year and showcases a range of performers; from up-and-comers from around the country, to established veteran headliners. Dare we say, that it’s a Comedy Coachella of sorts (We’re so topical!).This year, we will see such leading acts as Dana Gould, Reggie Watts, Natasha Leggero, Todd Glass, Greg Behrendt, Laura Kightlinger, Moshe Kasher, and Peter Serafinowicz, grace the collective festival. But what we’ve frequently been hearing is that you’ll most likely laugh just as hard at the shows with the openers, in-betweeners, and the acts that aren’t that familiar with you. It’s going to be a comedy smorgasbord for you to discover, out there at the theaters, bars, pubs and venues on Hawthorne Boulevard (and slightly beyond). You’d be a fool to miss it this coming week’s end.
Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are defined comedy hubs. And it seems as if Portland has become a decent periphery as far as comedy goes; the scene here is definitely getting better as The Bridgetown Comedy Festival continues to grow each year. We asked co-founder Matt Braunger (a successful comedian and actor in his own right), why he thinks Portland embraces the BCF. Why does it succeed here in Portland? This was Braunger’s reply:
Well, I think it’s just something Portland needed. A lot of medium to larger cities have a comedy festival, and Portland is one of the most arts-friendly cities I’ve ever known or heard of. Growing up, my parents were always taking me to plays, dance performances, readings, etc. Comedy is kind of a low art, and I say that with affection. It’s not embraced by high society, you don’t get grants to pursue it, but everybody likes to laugh no matter who they are. By that standard Portland is a perfect city for Bridgetown to be in, and the locals have really made it thrive. I love that it’s become a yearly thing that the city looks forward to.
(UPDATE) This is what co-founder and comedian/producer Andy Wood had to say:
I think the fest has been embraced by Portland because it’s put on by comedians and comedy fans, with an emphasis on quality acts, and people respond to that. It’s a city that embraces the arts in general, and they like that the festival brings some of the best headliners and up-and-coming acts from around the country right to their doorstep. As far as Portland’s support of comedy in general in recent years, I think the pendulum has swung in favor of comedy, maybe because for so many years it wasn’t on people’s radar as much here. A city this big can support a good-sized comedy community, and it’s less notable that there is a scene now than that there *wasn’t* much of a scene before. It seems like it’s a good time to be a comedian or comedy fan in Portland.
We also had an exchange with Portland-based comedian Nathan Brannon. He’s a talented comic who has opened for big-timers like Dave Chappelle and Dave Attell. Brannon was crowned the winner of Helium Comedy Club’s “Portland’s Funniest Person Comedy Competition” in 2012. He seems to be on a path of success similar to such Portland stand-ups as Ron Funches and Ian Karmel. The comedian talks about the hard work that has to be put into being a comic and holds his Portland comedy brethren and family with high regard.
Aaron Abrams, our friend/colleague, self-proclaimed comedy nerd/humor-ologist, and newly minted Superslice writer/columnist, spoke with Whitney Streed, another stand-up who is also based in Portland. She brings forth a brand of humor that’s punny and quasi-politicized. She’s well respected in the community as she regularly brings comics together by organizing shows and hosting them in PDX.
Check out Kristi Turnquist‘s article at The Oregonian, Laugh it up, Portland: Bridgetown Comedy Festival helps grow city’s comedy scene. It’s a nice read about how Portland has become a comedy incubator and there’s insight from co-founder Andy Wood about the festival.
Stay tuned as we will have continuing coverage (via Facebook, Twitter and here at the site) of the festival, while it’s going on, and a recap after the festival concludes. We’ll also be documenting it with photography by Nathan Sanborn. Above all, leave those camera phones in your pockets (and purses) and enjoy the show that’s in front of you, in real-life HD.
Bridgetown Press Release HERE. Interviews with Brannon and Streed BELOW.
$15.00 – Thursday, April 18, 2013, 7:00 pm @ White Owl Social Club
Pandora Comedy Radio All-Stars
$20.00 – Thursday, April 18, 2013, 10:00 pm @ Pandora Stage at Hawthorne Theatre
DadBoner and Friends, You Guys
$20.00 – Friday, April 19, 2013, 9:00 pm @ Mailchimp Stage at Mt. Tabor Theater
$30.00 – Saturday, April 20, 2013, 8:00 pm @ Bagdad Theater
Bagdad Closing Show
$30.00 – Sunday, April 21, 2013, 8:00 pm @ Bagdad Theater
BUY Shovel Fighter
White Owl Primetime
$15.00 – Friday, April 19, 2013, 9:00 pm @ White Owl Social Club
Mailchimp Stage Primetime
$15.00 – Saturday, April 20, 2013, 8:00 pm @ Mailchimp Stage at Mt. Tabor Theater
Tabor Lounge Late Night
$10.00 – Thursday, April 18, 2013, 11:00 pm @ Mt. Tabor Theater Lounge
Mailchimp Stage Early Show
$15.00 – Friday, April 19, 2013, 7:00 pm @ Mailchimp Stage at Mt. Tabor Theater
$15.00 – Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:30 pm @ Eagles Lodge
TONY TRINH: What’s it like being 2012 Portland’s Funniest Person?
NATHAN BRANNON: Great question. Well, the sash I made myself is pretty cool. I no longer open doors at shows; I kick them open and scream, “BEHOLD!” I’ve also been able to see how many people around the country still don’t know where Portland is. Other than that, it’s not much different. Seriously though, I’m happy to be counted as a representative of the Portland scene, which is full of so much talent.
TRINH: That’s cool. You’re like a Comedy Ambassador of Portland now. Which leads me to my next question. Chicago, NYC and LA are comedy hubs. I see Portland as a peripheral scene, which is to say that it is legit, is on the map and growing. You say there’s a lot of people with the “funny gene” here. What do you think of the comic scene/culture in Portland? Can you elaborate?
BRANNON: You could say I’m biased, but I think Portland has one of the best comedy scenes in the country. Not to take anything away from any other scenes around the country, but I think the “magic” lies in how no one here is above hard work. Everyone from the vets to the newest comedians here; they’re all held accountable by the others. If you don’t take much pride in your craft and don’t try to get better every time you step on a stage here, eventually it’ll start to show. When you see everyone around you making strides in their performances, that’s enough motivation for (you to) keep working. You don’t want to be left behind, is what I’m trying to say.
When I started here in Portland, there were nowhere near the amount of comedians or comedy fans. Watching the older comedians, work night after night, for a couple drunks, I think, instilled this work ethic in a lot of us. I think it’s one of the reasons you see so many from Portland doing so well now, and making a national impact.
There’s a special spot in my heart for this scene (the majority of them were actually at my wedding). I don’t really take credit for the way the scene is today. I just know they make me a better comedian and would hope I do the same for everyone else here.
Hope that helps. Sorry I was so wordy.
TRINH: I love wordy! It takes a collective energy to up everyone’s game. It’s good to hear that you guys inspire each other. I get it. You just got married last year or within the past year-and-a-half, right? I recall you doing a bit about the cultural differences between you and your in-laws. Being married must have inspired a wealth of material. Are there any personal aspects about your home-life that wifey would get on you for waxing comically about, onstage? Or are there not any taboo topics?
BRANNON: Yeah, I’ve been married to my wife for about a year and a half. Yeah, my family inspires a lot of my material. I don’t think it would be possible to be a comedian, and NOT reference my family or my in-laws. They’re hilarious, I don’t even have to embellish much. My wife doesn’t really get on me for any of my material because she knows I love and respect her and the rest of my family too much to “throw them under the bus.” I don’t really make fun of anyone in my stuff, except the girl who used to bully me in kindergarten. There aren’t really any taboo topics, just cause I think they trust me. They trust that I won’t talk about it unless it’s a funny joke. I always try it out on them before I take it to strangers, but even if they don’t like it, I think they let it slide if it is honest. I think, if you’re honest about stuff, and it comes from a real place, it’s not taboo. Not to me, anyway.
TRINH: When you’re not on the road, how often are you doing your thing in Portland? Where are you honing your craft? Are you mainly at Helium?
BRANNON: I try every night that I’m in town. Some of my favorite places are definitely Helium, the Tonic Lounge on Wednesday nights (hosted by the awesome Whitney Streed), the Red Room sometimes, the Bagdad Theater, The Boiler Room always has a special place in my heart as well. I actually became a “Portland Comedian” there. I also like performing at the World Famous Cannabis Cafe. A lot of comedians say it’s real hard, but I like the challenge.
TRINH: Tell everyone when you’re performing at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. By the way, who are you personally looking forward to seeing at the BCF when you’re not performing? What are your insider picks?
BRANNON: Friday, April 19, at 9pm, I’ll be at the White Owl Social Club. Saturday, April 20, at 11:59pm, I’ll be at the Mailchimp Stage at Mt. Tabor Theater. In terms of other comedians I wanna see, definitely Matt Braunger, Jesse Case, Dwayne Perkins, Dax Jordan, Richard Bain, and of course, every local comedian in the festival will be a lot of fun to watch.
TRINH: Thank you for chatting with me, Nathan. We look forward to catching your sets at BCF. We hope you keep being a Portland comedy staple for years to come. Keep holding it down and good luck with the shows!
BRANNON: Sorry, I forgot to mention that there are a lot of great comedians who weren’t able to be in the festival but are great, and definitely deserve checking out around town as well. Thanks so much.
Nathan Brannon performs at Helium Comedy Club on September 20, 2012:
AARON ABRAMS: How would you describe your standup?
WHITNEY STREED: There are a lot of puns…it’s a weird mix between silly and serious. I talk a lot about myself and then I say something that’s either way too dirty or political or obtuse, I apologize for it…and then I pun more.
ABRAMS: When did you know you wanted to be a comedian and how did you get started?
STREED: I didn’t really realize it until the first time I actually did an open mic about 4 years ago. It was something of an idle thought in my mind, a potential creative outlet, but the first time I was on stage telling jokes it hit me like a ton of bricks that this was what I was supposed to be doing with my life. (I mostly bombed, by the way, but then I went to like four more open mics that week.)
ABRAMS: Your work can be political…and it is definitely informed by politics. It can be tough to be both political and funny. How do you thread that needle?
STREED: I am still really working on being able to talk about what I believe without it becoming a sermon or some kind of tirade. When I do get political I have to be careful because I’m likely to get too passionate and lose the fact that these are supposed to be jokes. You have to keep your ego in check and remind yourself that the audience isn’t going to care about your opinions unless they’re laughing.
ABRAMS: You were described as “the glue” in Portland’s comedy scene in an Oregonian article last year. You’ve helped organize comedy showcases and you run the PDX Comedy Blog. How did you end up so engaged in Portland’s local comedy scene?
STREED: It’s because I’m made of hooves. Actually, I’m just an organizer by nature, it’s something I’ve done in many different ways, so it (is) just because this natural extension of how I was involved in the scene. I got handed a show to take over a few months after starting and realized I loved hosting and producing as much as I loved just doing stand-up, so I’ve always made an effort to have a show, or two, going at any given time.
It’s also partly because I was lucky in my timing. When I started, things were just beginning to pick up — I did my first open mic a few months before the second Bridgetown (2009), when everyone was starting to feel like there was a really cool thing building up in Portland. It’s been great to watch it grow into such a vibrant scene. There’s an old comedy scene in Portland, for sure, it’s been around since before the first comedy boom in the ’80s, but it’s always an up and down thing with arts scenes, so it was exciting to become involved at the cusp of such an exciting time.
ABRAMS: How do you think a comedy scene in a place like Portland relates to places like L.A. or New York? Do smaller cities develop their own voice or personality?
STREED: I think smaller scenes are super critical to the health of comedy as a whole because they offer such a lower stakes atmosphere for people to develop in. Certainly, there’s value in being able to get polished and start getting paid (for) work early but, frankly, I really have relished the chance to work out my voice and character on stage without having to feel like Very Important People were Watching Me and Thinking About Giving Me Work. It’s a gift to be able to get on one, or two, or three open mics, almost every day of the week. To be able to frequently get on showcases — that’s something that’s much harder for people just starting out in a bigger place like L.A. or New York.
ABRAMS: Bridgetown can be quite a whirlwind — do you have any advice to festival goers?
STREED: Spend a little time looking up some of the performers you may not have heard of! There are always some awesome headliners at Bridgetown, but there are so many comedians coming to town who might not be super-well known or have a ton of credits, but who are really absolutely stellar. The smaller shows are just as awesome as the bigger ones. And if you don’t know who to see, check out the Tanker Open Mic — you never know who could drop in!
Whitney performs at Portland’s Got Talent on January 25, 2011: