Portland’s First Black Comedy Festival Wants To Showcase Its Diversity

The expansive lineup comprises of previously existing black comic-hosted and long-running showcases.

(Turbulent Tranquility Photography)

It's barely a week before the first NW Black Comedy Fest, and its creators still seem kind of surprised that it's actually happening.

"Last summer we were talking with [two other] black promoters in Portland," says Courtenay Collins who, along with her husband, Tyrone, is running the festival. "They were like, 'Sounds great,' and then they just kind of fell away. It got to be November and [Tyrone] was like, 'I really want to do this festival,' and I was like, 'OK, um, maybe February?'"

Courtenay originally created a production company called Dirty Angel Entertainment to manage her husband's standup career (his comedy moniker is the Real Hyjinx). Through Dirty Angel, they produced a weekly showcase hosted by the Real Hyjinx, as well as other showcases in Oregon and Washington. They've also put together seven comedy competitions whose winners have included Lance Edward and Adam Pasi, winner of WW's annual Funniest Five comedy poll ("I remember Adam's first jokes," says Tyrone).

But this is the duo's first full-blown festival and multiday event, and without the two other promoters, it's just the two Collinses putting it all together: They're the festival's producers, booking agents, publicists and ticket distributors. Plus, they don't have any sponsors.

"One thing we learned is that we really should have started this process in, like, August," says Tyrone, as he and Courtenay laugh.

Sure, they're stressed, but they don't seem particularly daunted. "It's a labor of love, and I just think it's time that we had this here," says Courtenay.

There have been other successful attempts in Portland to draw attention to nonwhite comics:  Baron Vaughn's Bridgetown Comedy showcase the New Negroes features black comedians from all over the country, and revered standup showcase and radio show Minority Retort features POC comedians from the Northwest. But NW Black Comedy Fest is the first comedy festival in the region that's local and entirely devoted to black comics, and that intends to become annual. That means the promise of a large space in the local scene dedicated to providing a platform for black comedians while showcasing the range of black comedy that's already a part of the city.

So it's fitting that this year's expansive lineup comprises of previously existing black-comic-hosted and long-running showcases. Along with Jeremy Eli's Minority Retort, the lineup includes Daniel Martin Austin's Your Fault for Listening, Anthony Robinson's Black Laughs Matter, Tyrone's the Real Comedy Spot, and sets by more 30 comedians, including Curtis Cook, Lance Edward and Debbie Wooten.

It's a diverse lineup, which is something that was important to its organizers. "People think of black [comedy] and think they're going to get like 10 Martin Lawrences," says Courtenay. "We have shows [in Portland] that might book one black comic, but you can book three and you'll still have three very different voices."

With the festival dates approaching, the Collinses (who have day jobs and four kids) have been devoting most of their off time to delivering tickets, coordinating with comedians, setting up catering, and making sure everything's in the right order.

But they seem OK with the fact that they're overwhelmed. "We're probably going to be in debt a little after this," says Tyrone. "But it's going to be so well worth it. At the end of the day, nobody can take this from us—'They put on the very first NW Black Comedy Festival.'"

SEE IT: NW Black Comedy Festival is at Funhouse Lounge, 2432 SE 11th Ave., on Friday, Feb. 17, at 7 pm, and at Ford Food & Drink, 2505 SE 11th Ave., on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 pm. $10-$40.

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