On day one of this great comedy convergence in Bridgetown, Portland, OR, I was driving north from Ashland, OR, after a 4½-month sojourn of the southwest in my ’86 Toyota Tercel. Although I passed by the Mt. Tabor Theater knowing that Me and my wristband for four days of comedy only required stepping inside the makeshift box office and showing my identification, I rolled on by and went to my couch, a friends’ house in Northeast Portland. I’m moving back to PDX, but it still feels like travel. With that decision, I relaxed and considered the next three days. Tonight, I must last in to the a.m. hours, for it is Saturday, the only real night at any festival.
Yesterday began with a podcast taping of Comedy Film Nerds at the Mt. Tabor Theater, featuring Janeane Garofalo and Doug Benson. Gotta say, Garofalo is doing well in her second generation of comedy, having seniority over many of the others, an iconic status for stamping the humor of nineties with her feminist angst through characters like Daria, on MTv. I understand she kicked the weed habit and takes care of herself; she looks good and the tats were impressive as she pulled off the heavy coat. Her wit and timing was spot on when she imagined Zooey Deschanel carrying a wicker basket for a purse, it busted the room with unison rolling laughter. Why? It’s hard to say, because you probably didn’t laugh when you read this. As for Doug Benson, gotta say, he is definitely a classic drunk comic. I witnessed him unravel last year at Bridgetown during an Iron Comic show, where he got sloppier and drunker as it went. I didn’t get to see him at South By Southwest… Yeah, he’s definitely funny in that charismatic guy at the bar way and when he cracks up at his own joke, the audience cracks up, every time. Hosts, Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini make a dynamic pair and they really are knowledgeable about their movies, especially Mancini, who really lays on the box office performance and audience popularity stuff with industry level blogdom. Yeah, he’s the kind of guy who keeps a VHS collection. Elwood is the dude guy that brings it all together, plus he’s very animated as if there is no hesitation between the cartoon he sees in his mind and the attempt to recreate it.
From there I scuffled across the street to Bridgetown All-Stars, at the Eagles Lodge, which was a nice grouping of new but developed comics from all over the country. I particularly went to see someone I met in Austin, Maggie Maye. Awkwardly, I review her. She strikes me as a real professional and has the capacity to go places with her entire aesthetic, presence, and jokes that cross boundaries in a totally non-threatening way. She leaves the audience smitten. The jokes are personal too, and when she laughs during your set, she gives the whole room permission. Take a look at the Facetime Interview. The other comic that really stood out as having a unique style is Kate Berlant. I hadn’t heard of her, though she has a good thing going on in Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles. The big city swirl of bizarre that feeds her consciousness also pushes through to some interesting thought processes that happen live on stage. She is a psychedelic type with a strange face, with a Lucille Ball bit happening.
It was then that I ran over to Improv 4 Humans at the Hawthorne Theater. I was especially curious about Jon Glaser, because I watched this guy do characters on Late Night with Conan O’Brien growing up and he surely wrote a lot of jokes that had me busting up. Hosted by Matt Besser — whom I would recognize from Upright Citzens Brigade when he took the stage — this podcast taping was much like the natural conversations of comedians when hanging out in groups. They talked about life, one thing reminds them of something, then the imagination takes over and a scenario is improvised from that, seamlessly. I liked the concept and things got pretty funny. They’re all masters of the craft, so it was more casual for them. I should mention the opening act improv group featured Stacey Hallal and others of the Curious Comedy Theater scene, serving as a reminder that PDX is full of upper shelf improv and you should totally check it out if you haven’t already.
And finally, there was a character driven show called Persona!, a monthly show imported from L.A. for a night. It was unfortunate that my legs started feeling weak and my spirit tired in the middle of such a good show. I wanted to see Maria Bamford and I did. She played a new age quack with books to sell and I admit her insights to nonsensical new age philosophy was perfect, because it was funny and most audiences don’t have exposure in that area. I had to assume it was Bamford I saw because this show doesn’t introduce the comedian; it’s an interviewing of characters and hilarious audience participation. The pretty blonde woman in the front row attracted the most teasing, but played along nicely. Aparna Nancheria is one half of the brains behind the show. I saw her open for Todd Barry along with others at SXSW. She is funny, but kind of intense and weirdly antagonistic, and her voice is used specifically to find annoying registers that cut through the weaker low-range dynamics of the microphone to exploit that high mid range like a knife in my ears, especially when she plays the child character. Good thing she’s funny, because she can drop that shtick and still make it as a comic and writer. The whole pacing and concept of the show is great and I hope to make it to L.A. sometime and see it on the home field.
That explains why “Very Little Stand Up” happened for me on this night. I hope to keep mixing it up like that, because seeing endless stand up routines wouldn’t make a festival, it’s the improvisation, panel style happenings and other offbeat shows that make Bridgetown a good thing.
TO DO LIST FOR DAY 3
Left, Right, and Ridiculous
The Delocated Witness Protection Program