Kristine Levine thinks she may have done this to herself.
Well, partly. She is not responsible for the rheumatoid arthritis that half-prompted her move to Tucson this week. But the blue-collar comedian—it's not unfair to call Levine a blond, post-millennial Roseanne Barr—may have some complicity in the rising rents in Lents, the deep-Southeast neighborhood where she's spent most of her life. As a regular character on Portlandia, she's done her part to raise the city's profile and draw an influx of newcomers.
"Me being on the show, maybe I helped gentrify myself out," Levine says. "Maybe I contributed to my own leaving. I worked on the show for six years. I helped get people to move in who love it as much as we do—and now they're here, and I have to go. Seems like bullshit, doesn't it?"
A lot of Levine's life seems like a slog through bullshit. Her recently completed TV pilot is called Life Is Ass, and it's hard to argue with the perspective.
In a comedy scene dominated by bearded guys in corduroys telling jokes about cats, pot, Tinder and Applebee's, Levine is an outlier. As a little girl, she says her mother left her out in the car outside the nearby New Copper Penny while she got drunk and picked up guys. Levine's pilot is about her life after splitting from her husband, who left her for a woman he met on StarTrek.com, and about how she supported herself as a clerk at a neighborhood porn store.
She speaks fondly about Lents—even the old-school motorcycle gang clubhouse. "Like, a real one!" she says. "A real badass motorcycle gang."
But she recently left the neighborhood's Facebook group after a flame war about the Springwater Corridor, "the Avenue of Terror" that passes one of the city's largest and roughest homeless encampments. A neighbor posted a photo of garbage and needles along the path with a derogatory comment.
"Everyone was telling this man, 'Hey, these are homeless people!'" Levine says. "They were being very Portlandy about it. 'Hey, we've gotta get help from the city!' and 'Why don't you just try to do some outreach? If you got to know them…'"
Levine was not having any of it.
"I'm like, 'Hey, these are not just families that are displaced and have nowhere to go. We're not talking about that—those people get help,'" she says. "And it was like, 'Wow, I'm a big asshole.' A lot of blocking, a lot of flaming. It got ugly. So I showed myself the door."
And it's not like Levine lacks empathy.
"I've been homeless, so I understand," she says. "But, again, there is a criminal element, there are drug problems, there are mental health issues. Going out and meeting them is not going to help them clean up their rigs or their lifestyle or their poop."
But might it make them better neighbors to those with housing?
"Have you ever been on drugs?" Levine asks. "Why don't you do some meth and get back to me. Do meth for five years, then talk to me about caring where your poop goes."
Soon, Levine will be away from all this—in Arizona, where ain't no one is going to argue that neighborhood outreach is any kind of solution to the homeless problem.
And she'll be able to help those cat comedians, just like she has been doing at her weekly Critical Comedy nights, where she dispenses tough love to a generation of would-be local standups. When we met at Lents brewery Zoiglhaus, even our waiter was an alum.
"Portland comedians used to tour," she says. "The experienced comedians would take the younger people out. All these little runs where Portland comics go out to Spokane or Walla Walla, that's gone. Maybe Portland thinks it's above that now, but that's where you learn to be a real comedian. You learn that jokes that work in Portland don't work out there. And that's how you get to craft that perfect joke. I've been telling people, 'Come down to Tucson, and I'll get you set up on a little run.' Because that mentorship that we used to have, where Portland comics took newer people out on the road with them, that's gone."
Tucson, Levine says, should be gentrification-proof. She's already lined up a nice little house near downtown for half of what she's paying to live in Lents.
"There's no talk of vegans, there's no talk of [affirmative consent]," she says. "And no one will ever move there because it's so hot. The weather is such shit, no one's ever going to say, 'Hey, let's all move to Tucson!' Even the name sounds gross—Tucson."
SEE IT: Two Broke(n) Girls—A Farewell Benefit for Kristine Levine and Veronica Heath is at Helium Comedy Club, 1510 SE 9th Ave., on Wednesday April 27. 8 pm. $15. 21+.