Like the city itself, the future of comedy in Portland is currently a hot discussion topic. The last few years have seen a number of incredibly talented individuals rise up through the local comedy scene and then leave once they reach the top. With each new departure comes the question of whether or not those comics left behind can fill the vacancies and keep comedy alive in Portland.
Related: Kristine Levine moved to Tucson.
It's an important question to be sure, but it's becoming less and less relevant all the time. It's hard to argue against this city's ability to produce and nurture funny voices after you watch a line-up like the one at Bridgetown Comedy Festival's Hometown Heroes showcase.
Set up specifically to honor a handful of the aforementioned talent who have moved on to greener pastures, a hot, sweaty, Refuge PDX played host to four winners of the Portland's Funniest Person competition, four honorees of Willamette Week's Funniest Five (two winners), and one of the guys who founded the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and is as responsible for Portland's comedy renaissance as anybody around.
Related: WW's Bridgetown Comedy Diaries
The only non-Portland adjacent comic of the evening was Preacher Lawson. The LA-based semi-finalist on Comedy Central's Up Next and runner-up in 2014 for Florida's Funniest Person kicked off the show with a fantastic physical, animated set. He's a comic everyone needs to see, and should probably make the short list of breakout performers from Bridgetown 2016.
After Lawson, the evening was all about Portland.
Sean Jordan, playing the role of master of ceremonies, ran out of ways to say "dear friend," bringing up the people he cut his comedy teeth with. Shane Torres, fresh off a hot Conan set, finished his performance with a confetti popper unexpectedly capping a slowed-down, intimate story about a romantic date and the feeling of falling in love. Steven Wilber showed that almost a year in Los Angeles hasn't had an impact on his unique weirdness. Amy Miller learned a few things while driving across country. Portland's comedy godfather Matt Braunger told stories about ass surgery and taking psychedelic mushrooms, not at the same time.
Andrew Michaan nailed the talking point du jour with possibly the line of the evening: "I moved out of town because there weren't enough condos for my taste, but I'm thinking about moving back."
Friday's super secret special guest headliner was none other than Ian Karmel. It doesn't get more Portland than that. Karmel's mother had her sixtieth birthday day at Refuge PDX, and Ian was coerced into doing a tight six minutes for her and her friends. He said it went ok.
In all, the evening was a testament more to what the city has produced than to what the city will produce, but anybody in the audience had to see that this powerhouse lineup didn't just come from nowhere. Call it a lightening in a bottle phenomenon if you want, but the range of styles on stage proves Portland isn't a bad place to be if you're trying to figure out how to be a professional at making people laugh.
As time passes, and these specific performers move further and further away from their time here, they will most certainly become more than just Portland comics. But this city will always have been where they started, and will always be a part of who they are on stage.
After Karmel closed down the show, it was nice to see everybody hanging out and catching up. Funny Over Everything might be done, and the Tonic Lounge no longer exists, but it's clear that this group of comics enjoys being around each other, and that more than anything helped them grow and progress as comedians.
Portland's next group of comics might not have the camaraderie of the originals, but they will have the path laid down by everyone who took the stage Friday evening. There's a good chance that will be enough to keep funny people coming to town to develop their craft so they too can one day come back as Hometown Heroes.