House shows have been a staple of the music scene forever. But there's a different art form encroaching onto this turf: standup comedy.
In a town with more comics than there are open slots at standup showcases, comedy has expanded from clubs and bars to basements and living rooms. Sometimes the jokes happen alongside Bob Dylan covers. Other times, standup is the sole draw. Guests huddle on couches and smoke spliffs on the back porch. Beer and wine are for sale in the kitchen.
We hit three house shows—here's what we found.
THE PARENT TRAP
White Tiger Lounge is not a lounge. It is a refurbished backyard mancave gone suddenly public, missing only a pool table and beer light. This quality is made more apparent by comic Amy Miller, who calls out cave owner Jack Miller for joshing her about blowjobs the moment they met. The polite fabric among the mostly professional couples—Amy Miller jokes later that they cleaned Northeast Portland out of babysitters—is briefly ruffled.
But it's an oddly polished house party, and it can recover. There's an actual stage, sound insulation and podcast recording equipment, with three other comics booked besides Miller: Christian Ricketts, Whitney Streed and Jacob Christopher. It's pretty much BYOB at White Tiger, and because it's cold out, everybody leaves their alcohol on the table outside the door like an offering to Cthulhu. There's some good stuff, like the barrel-aged cider from a couple who drove down from Seattle. Shanon Emerson, the host, is a real-estate broker who does capable standup only in this very room, among friends—mostly about meth heads and parenthood. The night is like a pressure-release valve from the passive-aggressive politesse of Portland's professional set. "Why did the dog suck its own dick?" asks Ricketts, as the room goes briefly silent. "Because I was wearing a dog costume!" MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
"It's like I went to my grandma's house and someone handed me a mic," mumbles Seattle comedian Scott Losse. It's not the most precise description—this spic-and-span living room in inner North Portland favors twinkly lights and framed posters of midcentury noir films over needlepoint pillows and fragile feline knickknacks—but it feels homey and safe, like if you took a nap someone would toss a crocheted blanket over you. Izzy, a 15-year-old fuzzy white dog in a bow tie—breed unknown—does just this, shuffling at comedians' feet before falling asleep in the front row. A few attendees pop open bombers clearly purchased with ABV in mind, while others shell out for $1 cans of PBR or $3 glasses of boxed wine. There is also free Perrier (ballerrr!).
As for the lineup, it's stacked: a few duds, sure, but also some of Portland's better standups, including Nathan Brannon, JoAnn Schinderle and Christian Ricketts. Seattle's Emmett Montgomery—clad in red footie PJs, his ginger beard reaching halfway down his chest—does a fever-dream bit as Sugar Plum Gary, soliciting questions about Christmas and giving existential answers about the naughty-nice binary, Frosty the Snowman and the fluidity of gender. There's much made of the fact that this is a room full of mostly young white people in what was previously a black neighborhood: Ms. Lo Rain, who blares Beyoncé's "Video Phone" from her purse as she comes onstage, cracks a studded belt and riffs on reparations. As we shuffle into the night, Toto's "Africa" plays us out, with Izzy the elderly dog still slumbering on his chair. REBECCA JACOBSON.
PRETTY YOUNG THINGS
This Cully spot is way more of a band house: It has a fire pit, a pot-smoking shed warmed only by a space heater, and a basement catacomb with an actual bar. A guy in a derby hat sings a Bob Dylan cover like Jack Johnson might, with lots of attention paid to his own voice. Partygoers discuss where they live, and their houses all have names, the same way somebody might name their bicycle Shirley.
Amid the music, the house had booked comic Anthony Lopez, who bagged out, and so Amy Miller is slotted in. She seems wigged by the youth of the crowd and so she bothers them affectionately about drugs, and being jobless and vegan, and about their parents giving them money, and about how they're really pretty. The audience moves from backchatter to laughter, and then to rapt attention. Everybody loves to be paid attention to, and Miller pretty much owns the place for the next 20 minutes.
Later, in the pot-smoking shed, someone asks me my philosophy—as if there's only one for everybody—and listens with equal attention. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.