In November 2017, THRU Media hosted its penultimate art opening at the company studio and gallery in northwest Portland. Comedian Jason Traeger was featured in the latter half of the month. He called his show “Soft Launch” and it was the debut of a campaign to find a confluence of artistic disciplines. While we were putting the THRU business and brand to rest, Jason was developing his own, and plotting the new year.
All of Traeger’s work is improvisational, psychedelic, humorous, absurd, and sacred. His approach — his product — is distinct. It seems that he’s had an epiphany about his roundabout career and this show is a first attempt to round up his talents into a cohesive whole. The format of stand-up comedy simply cannot accommodate Jason’s talents completely.
Although his comedy isn’t straight ahead, and his persona isn’t mainstream, he has attracted the attention of Helium Comedy Club, where Portland comics have been known to pivot toward bigger aspirations in bigger cities. He is a regular performer there. He also thrice earned finalist status in the club’s annual Portland’s Funniest Championships. Most of his life, however, Jason’s aspirations were elsewhere.
About ten years ago, Traeger was involved with the beloved hipster art supergroup known as Oregon Painting Society. They were not actually a painting society. They choreographed performance art and produced interactive visual art installations. It was a group that perfectly reflected an indigenous scene during a time when Portland was smaller, poorer, and broadly care-free. This was around the time that he was trying to make it as a painter. He earned his bachelor’s from Pacific Northwest College of Art, a school known for its adventurous graduates.
In the 1980’s, as a teenager, he became obsessed with punk rock. In the 90’s, he was a touring songwriter, living in Olympia, WA, published by K Records and Kill Rock Stars. It was an iconic period for a unique northwest indie pop sound. He first tried stand-up comedy around this time. Compared to the thriving music scene in Olympia, comedy had no place, so he ventured to greater pastures in LA.
He has discussed with me that the long time abuse of alcohol mixed with a penchant for psychoactive substances had a negative impact on his success in the past. Although he no longer uses substances (aside from cannabis) it was a decades-long period of his life. It shaped his creative mind. The same mind that is gaining success today.
I have always found that his work achieves a kind of clarity and perspective that is awakened by psychoactive substances. It is something like two true observations folding over and contradicting themselves to produce a truth that makes you laugh. His visual art doesn’t tell jokes, necessarily, but it does take you by surprise. Moreover, on the comedy stage, he gets laughs without telling jokes and that is his brand of stand-up.
Jason was one of the first Horizon at End Times podcast guests hosted by yours truly, and he was featured in a THRU photo review for the American Comedy series co-produced with Paul Schlesinger and Milan Patel, formerly running at Holocene. His participation in our final run of gallery events helped to bring closure to THRU‘s closure.
His visual exhibit comprised of one oil on wood tryptic, entitled “Here Comes Everything”, and two untitled paper cut images. The painting conveys a strange world where time actually seems to be a fluid thing, not linear, while the paper cuts offer an intricate illusion of symmetry. Form and concepts can be discovered by focusing in to analyze the anomalies.
The whole Traeger Method performance lasted for well over an hour. In many ways it was a primer. He hyped what he was doing and why, satirically, while showing videos that were produced from his basement. Our own basement studio was packed with 25 of his fans eager to see this new performance project, and they followed the extemporaneous commentary faithfully.
The final THRU event included Jason along with more than a dozen other visual artists and performers. We called it Salon. A photo collection will be published soon. This article will be updated to reflect that when it has been published.