Bridgetown Comedy Festival begins tonight and runs through Sunday.
With so many difficult stories, so many trying moments in our lives, news of riots and disasters, climate change and war, the heart can become weary. But for the price of one hour on the couch with a psychologist, you can watch comics from all over the world descend upon Portland and soften the heart with laughs. At eleven venues all located in the dozen or so blocks between SE Salmon and NE Davis Streets, stretching from Water Avenue to SE 14th, it is all very walkable (also good for your heart!) and concentrated on Portland’s inner-eastside. You can chuckle from one venue to the next, with shows starting at Noon on Saturday and Sunday, and some starting as late as 11pm. Tonight at 7pm, there is a kick-off at the Doug Fir. I like to think whoever lives or works in the area this weekend, attending the festival or not, will hear rolling laughter across the landscape.
The festival begins in an especially celebratory fashion tonight at Revolution Hall with headliner Jonathan Katz, star and co-creator of the innovative animated sitcom, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist. He’ll bring a live therapy session to the stage to commemorate the twenty years since Dr. Katz first aired. Ambit Mag interviewed Jonathan last week, discovering how H. Jon Benjamin once made Katz pass out from laughing. The show will feature comedy’s finest including Andy Kindler, Janeane Garafolo, Ron Lynch, and more.
Another headliner, Dan Harmon, has created and produced NBC’s Community and co-created Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty. On Sunday at the Bossanova Ballrooom at 4 pm, his weekly podcast, Harmontown, makes a stop in Portland. The trajectory of his show has me envisioning him as the driver of one of those double-decker city tour buses, but with Harmon at the wheel, the bus abandons the usual sights and routes, derails and ends up turning the guided tour into a bumpy roller coaster ride. It’s a twisty, unsteady but immensely enjoyable ride; one you can’t wait to tell everyone you know about.
Venues including Bunk Bar, My Father’s Place, and Norse Hall will feature performances ranging from straight stand-up comedy like the long-running local showcase, “Funny Over Everything” at Norse Hall on Saturday, to podcast recordings and interactive formats like game shows. “Uncalled Four” at the Doug Fir on Sunday, 5pm, will call for audience members to ask inane questions of the comedians and judge them on the absurdity and hilarity of their answers.
On Saturday night at 11 p.m., members of the audience join in a drinking game with the performing comedians at “Brew Haha: The Comedy Show Drinking Game” at Bunk Bar. I’m not sure what the rules are but the tagline is “Stand Up. Drink Up.” Imagine playing drinking games with the funniest people you know, forgetting the rules, messing up turns as the night goes on and glasses empty and refill. Even if the jokes bomb, it would be endless amusement.
Watch first dates unfold on stage at the “Ok Cupid Show” on Sunday, 3pm, at the Doug Fir, as one man goes on three first dates with three women. As a bartender for years, I would often serve a lone man or woman a shot. They’d down it eagerly and nervously as if they were about to go on stage, and then disclose to me, glowing with an alcohol-induced blush, “I’m meeting someone here. It’s our first date.” Sometimes he or she hadn’t met the other in person yet, lured at that point only by an online profile and a few texts. I wouldn’t hover, but I would watch (discreetly) as the whole thing played out at the bar. Awkward, smooth, clumsy, quiet, sober, drunk: it’s an interesting thing to witness and brings to mind all the times you’ve felt like you either had to perform or could happily be yourself on a first romantic meeting with a near stranger.
Locals, like Sean Jordan, Bri Pruett, and Jason Traeger are paired up with national touring acts, making Bridgetown a real collision of funny people. Jessica Williams of “The Daily Show” and Phoebe Robinson will co-host “Blaria”, with Austin’s Maggie Maye appearing in the showcase, a guest to be featured on Ambit Mag’s Horizon @End Times podcast next week. Veteran comedic writer, podcaster and performer, Dana Gould should be interesting. Live music can be found scattered about as well.
Creative comedian, Drennon Davis will present his original “Imaginary Radio Program” with Karen Kilgariff, Saturday 9pm. Known for his musical approach, beatbox looped songs and off the cuff humor (much like Reggie Watts), Drennon has gained a lot of attention in the last year or so, making strong impressions, heralded by media as one of the most original young comics out there. He will also be appearing on the Horizon @End Times podcast this month.
Bridgetown will not merely entertain, but therapeutically explore the human condition with such an elaborate program of thematic events. No stone will be left unfunny, no person will be left sad, for at least the next four days.
Single show tickets, with the exception of Dr. Katz Live, are not available for advance purchase. You can purchase a festival pass for $99, or $124 if you want to see Katz. Doors open thirty minutes prior to each show and you can walk up to pay for entry on a show-by-show basis. Check out the Bridgetown Comedy Festival’s homepage for more information.