Baron Vaughn might be too big for the Bridgetown Comedy Festival next year. At least that's what festival organizers say about the host and creator of Bridgetown's New Negroes show. If he skips Bridgetown 2017—and if there is a Bridgetown 2017 after the festival's gutsy move from misty May to sun-crazed June—it'll be a first. Vaughn is one of two people who has performed at every Bridgetown since the first in 200 (the other is Portlander Shane Torres)
Vaughn is having a great year: He stars as Lily Tomlin's son in Grace and Frankie, had a half-hour special on Comedy Central and was profiled in Vulture. Before returning to Portland, Vaughn talked to WW about his co-host Curtis Cook, Northwest comics moving to Los Angeles and how Portland's biggest comedy festival has changed in nine years.
Related: Read Curtis Cook's column, But Why Tho?
WW: Why do you keep coming back to Bridgetown?
Baron Vaughn: I'm trying to institute routines into my life. Bridgetown has become a comedy pilgrimage. I live in L.A., and I have to go to Portland to see my friends from L.A. Plus, it reminds me of my own mortality. Seeing the youth out of Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, Austin, San Francisco—all these great comedy towns, and how people are expressing themselves and changing comedy.
You're not too busy with other projects?
It's easy to get distracted by all this career crap. I was talking with Rhea Butcher—who'll be at Bridgetown, too—and Rhea called me when her spouse, Cameron Esposito, was off filming somewhere else and really wanted to come home but couldn't find time. Reah said, "I could never be an actor." But that's comedy, too. Nobody who wants to be an actor is like, "I can't wait to not know when I'll get to go home." That's just fake stuff made by people trying to profit off of us.
How has Bridgetown changed since it started?
Bridgetown has created a comedy community—it's like Bonnaroo was before it sold to Live Nation…I remember Ian Karmel and Ron Funches hanging around at the festival and it was like, "Who are you?" Bridgetown was not the beginning of comedy in Portland, but now Portland competes on a national arena. It's recognized by L.A. and New York as competition.
Why did you decide to start the New Negroes show?
A couple years ago when I saw the lineup, I saw a lot of people of color. Everybody's very out for themselves. I can't blame them. Everyone's trying to pay rent. But that rat race can destroy a sense of community. I wanted to create a place for black comedians to be with each other and spark collaboration and inspiration. It's important to melt and commune and pass around the Hacky Sack, or play a game of chess.
Are Portland audiences different from L.A. audiences?
L.A. audiences are changing. They're on one extreme of jaded or stupid, either the dumbest dum-dums you've ever seen, or they've seen it all and are too cool to laugh. But the people in Portland are shrewd, pretty intelligent, and have a buttload of opinions.
There's an opinion bubble. Like the housing bubble. It's going to burst, and everyone's mind will be blown. I'm waiting for the explosion, when it bursts and we all realize that we don't really know anything.
That is getting really philosophical.
It's a waste of time if it isn't.
How would you describe your style?
Part philosopher, sociologist, anthropologist. I'm trying to observe my world and report on that justly…On what it means to be an American, which I think means trying to exist in the eye of the storm. I wouldn't call myself political. But I am black and I have opinions, and to some people that's the same thing.
See it: New Negroes is on the Kill Rock Stars Stage at Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St. 9 pm Friday. $20. Refuge PDX, 116 SE Yamhill St. 8 pm Saturday. $15.
Buy Festival passes here.