I know it’s been about a week since the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, but it takes a while to digest what happened over four beer-fueled days that left me exhausted and overdrawn.
This was my second Bridgetown. After having my mind blown last year, I tried to put together a coherent plan. I really tried. But after a day or so, you just go where you feel compelled to be. The great thing about Bridgetown is that no matter where you go, you’re bound to discover someone radical.
I started at the Hollywood Theater, one of the new venues for this year’s fest. Last year, the farthest you had to walk from the main cluster on SE Hawthorne was the Bagdad, about 10 blocks away. This year they added places like the Hollywood, Bossanova Ballroom and Helium which, while still relatively close, require a car to get to. New year, new venues, I decided to start at the Hollywood.
The first show of the night set the tone for Bridgetown perfectly. Reid Faylor played the part of unassuming, funny, likeable host. First comic was a Ricky Carmona, who easily had the Bridgetown’s biggest hair, afro-pick and all. From Chicago, he won me over with his vast knowledge of ODB. He was followed by Kristen Studard, whose skit about what women do to make themselves sexy was a piece of performance art that endured as one of the most memorable moments of the entire festival. Unfortunately that was the only time I saw her so who knows if that show was a one time thing. I immediately became a fan of Nato Green, whose point of view matches mine in a lot of ways. This was the first show I saw Guy Branum, who would end up winning my 2012 Hannibal Burress award for funniest person at Bridgetown. Also in this show were a couple of guys I’ve heard endless hype about but never seen in person; Rory Scovel and Pete Holmes. Scovel was polished enough but wasn’t all that memorable. Pete Holmes is an amazing talent. Reminds me a lot of a Gen-Y John Ritter.
Later I cruised over to catch what I could from the late show at the Eagles Lodge. Quite possibly the strangest/most amazing venue for comedy you never thought of. Lots of talk goes to the bingo board and streamers, but without a doubt the portraits of the top ladies and dudes in Eagles Lodge history that line the walls has to be the piece de reistance of this place. Oh, and they make you sign in. Oh and the retired marine security guard WILL interject himself into people’s sets. In my brief time there, I got to catch Nathan Brannon and Timmy Williams, both of whom have ties to Portland and I have seen before and (new to me) Matt Champagne, whose hosting skills remind me of a cleaned up Jimmy Newstetter. (Who we’ll get to later.)
First stop on Friday was the live taping of the Comedy Film Nerds podcast. This was a highlight last year, so I knew what to expect. Graham Elwood is really amped up. Chris Mancini looks like my friend Mike Roper from high school and Jeneane Garofalo is a lot older than I expected. Doug Benson, who I saw cruise by in a Dodge Charger before the show, also made an appearance to do his Leonard Maltin game. Overall, a good way to start the night.
After the show I ducked into the Tabor Lounge for something called Grawlix. Grawlix is the *#$*(#& seen in comic strips when a character curses. In this show, Adam Clayton Holland, Ben Roy and some other dude show us what those characters really said. It’s silly, but it works. And we didn’t get nearly enough of it. Overall this show seemed to go on forever, to the point that I had to leave early even if I missed headliner Eric Andre. But without a doubt, perhaps the best moment of the entire festival happened at this show. James Adomian intervened as a surly Sheriff of Nottingham who proceeded to stalk the audience for the next 15 minutes, demanding to know where we were hiding Robin Hood. It was an incredible commitment to character while playing the audience perfectly. The crowd was in love. Bridgetown was on! (Oh, I almost forgot Sean Patton, who for some reason, while funny, seemed on the verge of a mental episode.)
I wrapped up my night with another stop at the Eagles Lodge where I caught quick sets from the aforementioned Matt Champagne and Emily Heller. Heller looks a lot like my mom did when I was a kid so that’s really all I could think about while watching her. Sort of low intake for Friday, but I knew I was going to make the most of Saturday.
Saturday started with a double-header at the Bagdad. The first event on the entire schedule was a live taping of the “Who Charted?” podcast with hosts Howard Kremer and a lady named Kulap. I’d never seen these people before and honestly the show was kind of whatevs. Just seemed a little too Hollywood pandering top (insert portland reference here) list gimmicky. The people were enjoyable enough and had their funny moments. I was sitting up front and got too many looks of Brett Gelman’s plumber’s crack than I cared for. But I did have a pinata explode upon my person (see above photo) and I did get to sit behind Brody Stevens.
Bagdad part two was a show called Risk! which I half expected to be random comedians playing a game of Risk. But instead it was a way cooler true life story telling show where comedians reveal stuff you may not have known about them. Kevin Allison hosted and talked about puking on a Subway after trolling for gay sex. One lady comic talked about the time she got head lice. Janine Brito regaled us with the trials of growing up as the weird kid in shitty Bible Belt America. Maria Bamford shared a story of a manic episode that led to her dog’s demise. But for me, the best part of the show was Eric Andre telling us about his Moroccan prostitute adventure in Amsterdam. For me, Andre was last year’s James Adomian, the guy who provided a moment synonymous with Bridgetown. He’s got some shows in the works, including one with Hannibal Burress which should be the greatest thing to grace television.
Next on the agenda was the “Best of Austin” show at the Bossanova Ballroom, a venue best known for hosting underground hip hop in Portland. This was the show that I rolled the dice on and lost. The host of the show, who isn’t black, failed at some lame social commentary that involved him saying the n-word. I stayed through about half the show. Matt Bearden was the funniest of the group. Maggie Maye had her moments, but it just seemed like a bunch of Texans out of their element in Portland.
My disappointment was soon vanquished at the Tabor Lounge, where I got to see Portland’s own Jimmy Newstetter host. It’s the same job he does every Tuesday at Suki’s open mic, where I feebly attempted my first five minutes last summer. He is one of the funniest people in Portland and a nice guy. The highlight from this show, who sort of snuck up on me, was Barbara Holm. Her comedy blends nerd humor, gender and social commentary like a top shelf cocktail. Definitely one of the people I’m glad I discovered at Bridgetown. She might also win cutest comic of the fest.
From there I jetted across the street to Eagles Lodge to catch what I could. When I walked in, DJ Real was playing his moustache song that was featured regularly on the now defunct UnibashRadio podcast that I was lucky enough to be a part of. Ricky Carmona was hosting and Preshanth Venkataramanujam finally called out people for disingenuously encouraging breeders. At this point Bridgetown was running at full steam and the best was yet to come.
For me, Bridgetown’s best show from top to bottom was Saturday’s Hawthorne Late Night. Josh Gondelman, who I interviewed a couple months back for AmericasComedy.com was the host. Carolyn Busa had some of the dirtiest jokes of the entire festival. Mike Burns had the audience by the throat when he was detailing his OK Cupid profile. DJ Douggpound is one of the rare people who does musical comedy right. Guy Branum was back to explain why the Teen People Quiz makes him question his life choices and I was glad to see Myq Kaplan who I had heard a lot of hype about. Hari Kondabolu maybe had the smartest set of the night and tied everything together with a bit about Weezer that made us all realize we weren’t kids anymore. Dan Mintz brought his mastery of one-liners to close the show. (I think he closed, right?) There were others. At one point I waited for the urine stenched bathroom behind Pete Holmes, who insisted that it was a “one seater” in other words “don’t follow me in, you creeper.”
The perfect nightcap was back at the Tabor main stage, where Brody Stevens was holding court like only he can. I hope he gets his meds worked out. His positive energy inspires me, and yes, he has the jokes.
After hitting it hard Saturday, Sunday I felt more hungover than I have in a while. And I didn’t even drink! Finally I was able to drag myself out of my apartment to make it to Talk Show: The Game Show hosted by Guy Branum. This was at Helium, which can hold a couple hundred people. There was maybe 15. But that only made it better, in a way. It’s a shame though because it was a really good time. Guy is a great host and it was good to see him out of his standup routine. Also, Maria Thayer is one sexy woman.
Post-Helium, I stopped by the Hawthorne Lounge where the Portlandia Players show was wrapping up. I caught Ian Karmel’s entire set. He is the king of Portland comedy as far as I’m concerned. The most prolific guy in town and should become a big deal anytime now.
The closing show at the Bagdad allowed the headliners to perform mid-show so I was lucky to see the likes of Todd Barry and a surprise set from Doug Benson. Matt Braunger also brought it hard while CJ Toledano made some asian jokes. Clare O’Kane is the hot hipster chick who knows it and former Portlander Richard Bain also made an appearance.
What better way to close the Bridgetown experience than with Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction? It’s not what was said onstage that mattered. It was watching Martin the Eagles Lodge security guard listen to what was being said in a way that slowly drained all hope for humanity that was left in his war torn body. Congratulations, Bridgetown. You’ve defiled a fine relic of 1950’s Northwest Americana.
I never got into the overcramped Bar of the Gods and somehow I missed Ron Fucking Funches. But these are the lessons of Bridgetown. There’s no way in hell you can see everything. Just see as much as you can and you’ll be provided with a brand new class of comedians to follow till next time.