Braunger, 39, graduated from Northeast Portlandâs Grant High School. He built his comedy chops in Chicago and went on to join the cast of Madtv during the showâs final season. His success, moreover, has helped pave the way for a number of Portland comics, including Ron Funches and Ian Karmel, both of whom have recently joined Braunger in the ranks of LA transplants. All three are headed back home for the 1st Annual Darkest, Coldest Time of Year Spectacular, happening Friday, Dec. 27 at the Mission Theater. Braunger, whoâs currently at work on a new hourlong special and has been appearing on The Michael J. Fox Show, spoke with WW about the state of comedy in his hometown, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and the future of the local scene.
Willamette Week: What do you think about what comedy in Portland has become?
Matt Braunger: In the grand scheme of things, not just in Portland, I think itâs kind of an amazing time for comedy. The people who are doing comedy are doing it because they love it. There was a time when you would have a good set on Carson and get a sitcom the next day, and those days are dead forever, which is bad for your get-rich-quick types, but itâs good for the rest of us. Portlandâs such an art-centric town. When Andy Wood and I created the Bridgetown Festival, we were just like, âThis is a no-brainer.â Why isnât there something like this? And now youâve got all these comedians that are trying new things, very different things, and not only doing it to make people laugh but occasionally getting careers out of it. Itâs such a different, unique town that it kind of fosters a unique spirit, and a different, skewed way of looking at things.
Have you been surprised by the success of Bridgetown?
I didnât know how it was going to come out. I didnât know it was going to be the thing that itâs become. But I think we approached it with the right perspective. It was just like, letâs get famous people to get âasses in seats,â as the industry people say, and then get a bunch of people that no oneâs ever seen, and a couple people in between. There was no massive master plan to take over, to make this thing a juggernaut like the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, or the new South By Southwest. It was a thing to do for fun, to have our own little festival in the town we both love so much.
Do you expect to see Bridgetown still going strong in 15 years?
I donât see why not. Thereâs never not going to be new comedians. Really good comedians will always have new material. I donât see why it would stop. I mean, who knows? Some catastrophe could happen. Hopefully a comedian doesnât set himself on fire onstage and thatâs what weâre known for forever. I donât know why I put that out in the ether. Probably a bad idea.
How do successful comedians such as you, Ron Funches and Ian Karmel influence the comedy scene in Portland?
I think it only influences it in a positive way. Myself, and certainly Ian and Ron, none of us changed who we are to try and fit into any kind of box. We were ourselves, and boxes were made for us. Ron and Ianâs successâand Iâve said to many friends that theyâve broken the land speed record for getting jobs in Los Angeles after having just moved thereâitâs incredible. I think that fosters a positive attitude. Because you do have that moment as a comedian where youâre like, âThereâs no fucking way I can make a living at this.â And then you realize there is a way if you just keep at it and youâre doing it for the right reasons, and youâre funny. Those guys did it. I did it. Thereâs no reason why a lot of people coming out of Portland canât do it too.
When it comes to Ron and Ian, is their success thanks to Portland being a great incubator of comedic talent, or to their own hard work and dedication?
Itâs a combination. Portland is a very livable place. I started out in Chicago, and itâs great because itâs such a livable place that embraces the arts. I think thatâs a good platform to start from before you go someplace like Los Angeles, which is inarguably a lot more superficial and where the same kind of things arenât as valued. Itâs a combination of their hard work and going up night after night, and also being in a city that fosters creativity like Portland does.
How important was the role of the Helium Comedy Club in kick-starting the rise of comedy in Portland?
The guys who own Helium really wanted to have a club in Portland that Portland really likes. I was on the phone with them a lot about where they should put it. I was the one who was like, I would put it in southeast: Youâre going to get more room; more bang for the buck; itâs a really progressive arty area. I do think all of the headliners coming definitely shows itâs a destination. I feel like Harveyâs is a road clubâcomics go there to make a buck and leave.
What do you think will happen to Portland when the next group of local comedians leaves for LA or New York?
Itâs hard to imagine the bubble bursting for Portland comedy. Youâre going to have more and more people coming out of Portland that are funnier and funnier. I do think itâs better to start off somewhere other than LA or New York, because they can be very heartbreaking places. They can really be a hard places to live if you donât already have some kind of standing or some kind of connection to people there. Young comics sometimes come up to me at shows and ask about moving to Portland, and Iâm like, âDo it.â Comedy is always going to be there. Itâs almost like asking, will Portland stop having art galleries or breweries? I donât see it ending.
GO: The 1st Annual Darkest, Coldest Time of the Year Spectacular is at the Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St., 223-4527. 8 pm Friday, Dec. 27. $10-$12. 21+.