At first glance, the former Brody Theater doesn't look like an esteemed landmark.
Even after local nonprofit Kickstand Comedy moved in this year, the venue is still a little rough around the edges. Walking into the darkened room on a recent Tuesday night felt less like going to a comedy show than crashing an A.A. meeting in a church basement. There's a healthy supply of unadorned upholstered chairs, a card table of refreshments off to one side, and a smattering of smokers huddled over cigarettes just beyond the entrance.
But the shoebox-sized venue has been a reliable place to catch standup and improv since 1996, long before artists began turning every unoccupied bar corner, backyard and sex club in Portland into a makeshift performance space. The theater allowed trailblazing local performers to do their thing—or figure out what their thing even was—so it's about time the place got a little recognition, and some TLC.
Kickstand—which itself started in the basement of now-shuttered bike shop Velo Cult—largely continues Brody's tradition while taking it a bit further. It's the only performer-run production company in the city, which means as long as you bring in crowds and keep them laughing, pretty much anything goes. That's thrilling in itself, because you never really know what you're going to get from night to night. On my visit, that included everything from a 40-something man going into labor on the floor to two adults playing babies about to engage in an Old West-style duel.
Renovations are underway to improve the interior, and they're badly needed. Until then, sit in the front row whenever possible. The sightlines to the stage—really just a clearing in front of rows of seats—have not yet been improved, so every time performers sit or lie down, oddly frequent in my experience, you can't see them from the back. In addition, the trio of acoustic panels that doubles as a backdrop doesn't do enough to limit reverberation, so you find yourself straining to hear at times.
Despite these shortcomings, the Tuesday night Velodrome audience seemed unfazed. Sure, the stools in the back may squeak every time somebody sits down. People show up late, and the concession stand is only slightly better than the one in your high school gym—at least you can get cans of beer with your chips and candy bars. But that didn't stop performers from giving it their all, or the audience from giggling uncontrollably from the outset.
If you were a theater kid, or even got a kick out of talent shows at the summer camps of your youth, you'll appreciate Kickstand's tenacity to make something work with the resources it has. Is there anything more Portland than that?
GO: Kickstand Comedy, 16 NW Broadway, 503-719-5685, kickstandcomedy.org. Visit the website for an events calendar.