Until this week, Bri Pruett was the only comedian who placed in WW's first Funniest Five poll who hadn't moved out of Portland. But now, she's moving to LA.
It's not particularly surprising. For several years, the Portland native has been at the top of the city's standup scene. Along with her weekly spot as a host of Earthquake Hurricane, she's a frequent feature in showcases around the city. She's participated in Bridgetown Comedy Festival and All Jane. In 2014, a year after she won fifth place in our Funniest Five, she was a finalist in Helium Comedy Club's Funniest Person Contest.
Before she moves away, Pruett sat down with WW to talk about why she's leaving town and why Portland's comedy scene is a lot like compost.
WW: How are you feeling about moving?
Bri Pruett: Logistics are not my strong suit. So my mantra has literally been like "Okay, if you had a normal dad, what would dad do?" That stuff is occupying most of my brain space right now.
Have you ever lived outside of Portland?
In Connecticut, I spent two summers teaching at a fine arts camp for Jewish teens. It wasn't specifically for Jewish teens, there were just a lot of Jewish teens there. I've kind of figured out what it would look like to leave [Portland]. Every time I visit LA I think you know what, they got sage here, they got crystals and people who like to recycle, and those are sort of my favorite things about Portland. And trees, and the trees will be here presumably when I return.
It sounding like you have a lot of mixed feeling about leaving.
No, I saw my family this week and they were like 'well yeah, you've been talking about this for your whole life,' like, finding a bigger market. It's a business decision too, along with being sort of a long standing dream.
Was there a moment when you decided "Okay, now's the time?"
To be honest with you, I'm a little bit woo-woo and I felt a lot of natural cycles ending. I had a relationship end, a bar that I had been working at for eight years was bought by a California real estate developer. It now stands empty and it's a fucking travesty. It really is a little bit painful to watch Portland be developed the way it is. I'm definitely not angry with the people who come here, like why wouldn't you want to come here. But it is changing so fast and I'm ready to step back. The market's going to crash sometime and then maybe I'll be able to come back.
Is it fair to say you're leaving due to big fish in a little pond syndrome?
That may be an apt metaphor. I prefer to think of it as a koi fish. A koi fish grows when it has space to grow. I do believe in that kind of evolution: you grow to meet challenges. I'm not thinking about the other fish, I'm thinking about just me expanding to different opportunities and rising to new challenges. It will just be a process to see how my voice sort of fits in with the chorus.
Do you have anything immediate plans or goals in LA?
I have a list of about eight people to email when I get there. I had a great opportunity to work with Comedy Central as part of Roast Battle so I will be hopefully following up with them and hopefully continuing to feature as a club comedian. I'm really excited to work with Jenny Yang and Atsuko Okatsuka, who are two Asian-American comedians who started this show Disoriented for Asian American, female-ish comedians, and I'm so excited to go to that every week.
The Portland comedy scene sometimes gets criticized as being just a passing point for bigger markets. But do you see that as a negative thing?
I've been using this compost heap metaphor: you got to turn it over so the compost that's at the bottom can get the light. There are people who have been here for a while that are worthy of that attention. There are about 45—I've tried to count—about 30 to 45 women and non-binary people who are just starting in standup. So I predict in two years, we're going to have the best woman's comedy scene in the country.
Anything you'll miss about the scene here in Portland?
This is not a fun answer, but I get so much stage time here that it's so much time to work on my stuff. I'm so spoiled. I had all these places to just explore and it was luxurious. In LA, my focus needs to be on being seen a lot more and I'll have a lot less opportunities to be creative just for the sake of being playful.
Anything you won't miss?
It's a bigger scene so there's less sort of small town, town hall type issues. In Portland there are tiny beefs, tiny alliances. In LA you're awash in a giant community and there's less centrality to it, which I think is better. I think having a more diverse standard of what success looks like is going to be useful to me, and just finding more audiences.
SEE IT: Bri Pruett performs at Helium Comedy Club, 1510 SE 9th Ave., portland.heliumcomedy.com, with Katie Nguyen, Anthony Lopez, Caitlin Weierhauser, and Marcus Coleman. 8 pm Wednesday, Mar. 1. $12 advance, $15 at the door. 21+.