More than 50 stand-up comedians are descending on Portland for the first ever Bridgetown Comedy Festival, which will take place at the Mount Tabor Legacy and neighboring upper-Hawthorne Boulevard bars Thursday-Saturday March 6-8. The roster includes big names from L.A. and NYC, including Patton Oswalt of King of Queens and Comedians of Comedy fame—all of whom are doing the gig for free. But the real point of the festival, besides raising dough for the Oregon Red Cross, is to raise the profile of Portland's pitiful stand-up comedy scene. In a city devoted to coffee shops and indie-rock clubs, there's only one local venue just for stand-up—Harvey's Comedy Club in Old Town. Arguably the most successful comic in Portland, Auggie Smith, had to fly halfway across the country to find a following—most of his supporters live in the Midwest. The talent is here, but few seem to know who these local comics are. So to shine a little well-deserved light on Portland stand-up, WW sat down with three hometown comedians—including festival organizer Andy Wood—to hash out some hard answers to serious questions.
Turned to comedy when house-flipping failed.
What's the state of Portland stand-up?
It's a small scene, but a lot of really funny people are coming up. A few years ago, Seattle had a scene like Portland's now, but it's really grown up. Portland can do the same thing.
Did you have a career before stand-up?
I was an engineer at [now-defunct] PixelWorks in Tualatin until I got laid off.
Now you're a full-time comedian?
Yeah, but don't tell my parents. I tour a lot. I have a monthly show at the Ash Street Saloon called Grand Theft Pizza Party. And right now I'm putting this festival together.
Do you have to go to L.A. or NYC to make it as a comic?
Maybe eventually, but I don't think they're great places to develop your voice. In Portland, you can get a lot of stage time. And you can help build the scene.
Is there an easy laugh in Portland?
Making fun of hipsters usually works, even if it's a crowd of hipsters.
What are crowds like in Portland?
In general it's a smarter crowd. Sometimes at the Ash Street, I'd get a sort of respectfully quiet audience. They listen and appreciate the jokes, which is a little weird but way better than a crowd that's not paying attention.
Is there anything Portlanders won't laugh at?
Ironically, since Portland is pretty PC, offensive jokes seem to work better here. People laugh against their better judgment.
Do you feel pressure to work clean?
Definitely. If you want consistent work you have to have some clean material. I just had a gig where they sent me a contract, and in bold red letters it said, "Be well dressed." That was [the venue's] biggest thing.
How did you get all these comics to work for free?
It's for charity, and we're covering travel and rooms for the out-of-towners. The Jupiter Hotel gave us a deal. A lot of comics just like Portland. Patton Oswalt thinks Portland is one of the greatest cities in the world.
Performs midnight Thursday, March 6, at Mount Tabor Legacy, 4811 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-0450. 9 pm Friday, March 7, at the Hawthorne Theatre Balcony Bar, 1507 SE 39th Ave. 233-7100.
Stand-up, to me, is about simplicity. It's a guy with his vocabulary and his emotion. That's it. It's so beautiful and powerful when it's done right. But when it's done badly, I'd rather watch torture tapes.
What do you think of Portland's comedy scene?
There's lots of very good talent here. We just haven't cultivated it. Seattle has four working comedy clubs. Portland only has one, and it's…eh.
How do you feel about comedy clubs?
I like working them. In a bar, you don't really know what you're going to get. Bottom line—you don't want people to come to see a comedy show. You want people who come out to see you.
Does your comedy follow any
Basically, I just don't want people telling me what to do. Even if it's supposedly for my own good. We should all have a place we can gather where there are no rules.
Portland is a pretty liberal and regulated place. Does it make you crazy?
I'm very far left, but in Portland I like to attack that point of view. The people I politically agree with are usually the people I dislike most in life. I love rednecks. They're simple, but they're fun. Redneck women will fuck you. Hippie chicks will read you poetry.
Did you ever have a career besides comedy?
I started right out of high school. Sometimes I worry about my career, but even though I'm not famous, I'm probably in the top 5 percent of my profession. I've made a living with stand-up for 15 years. That's what I always wanted, so I guess I'm happy.
How do you see the state of stand-up today?
In general, our guys now are better than any time before. Most art should get better over time, especially something as young as stand-up. People have been making music since we could make noise, but comedy clubs didn't even exist until 30 years ago.
Performs 10 pm Thursday, March 6, at Mount Tabor Legacy.
"People keep telling me to keep Portland weird. Tell that to my
Do you tour a lot?
I went through Montana last summer. It was fucking horrible. We got to this bar in Idaho, and it's full of Idaho gangsters. Halfway through my set, this girl yells out, "You're fat!" At the end of the night, I was waiting for my check, and these guys wanted to beat me up. I didn't want to leave. I was at least going to get paid and then beat up.
What are Portland crowds like?
They tend to be more open to odd humor. It still depends on the room. When I do Harvey's, I stay pretty clean. Some middle-aged woman doesn't want to hear me talking about stinky pussy.
Where did you first perform?
At this club in Raleigh [North Carolina]. I ended up getting a job there. I saw great comics there. I saw Dave Chappelle, I saw Dave Attell. And I was running chicken fingers to them and shit. It was a dream come true.
Did you ever want to do anything besides stand-up?
Never. In high school, I did my senior project on stand-up. I failed. I guess it was my first bomb. I stood up in front of the teachers and just acted really weird and they failed me.
Does your comedy have any running themes?
If I said my comedy had any theme or message, I'd have to go punch myself in the face. I just want to make people laugh. My comedy's silly and it's absurd. Some comics, like political comics, have a message. I have a joke about a bird sucking dick.
Performs 9 pm Thursday, March 6, at Mount Tabor Legacy. 9 pm Friday, March 7, at Bar of the Gods, 4891 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-2037. 10 pm Saturday, March 8, at Mount Tabor Legacy with Patton Oswalt and others.
Bridgetown Comedy Festival takes place 8 pm-2 am Thursday-Saturday March 6-8 at Mount Tabor Legacy, 4811 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-0450, and neighboring venues. Find a full schedule, list of comics and venues and buy tickets at bridgetowncomedyfestival.com. $9 per show, $20 for full fest.