PORTLAND — The first night of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival featured no references to the craziness that happened in Boston this week nor any of the insanity that was still unfolding. But if there was a prevailing mood that hung over the opening events of this annual celebration of the funny it was a craving for catharsis.
And oh did we ever get that.
The release valve was kicked open at the White Owl Social Club by a group of comics being billed as Twitter All-Stars. My initial concern — that this was going to be a line of people on stage reading from their smartphones — was quickly rushed aside by the twitchy energy of Baron Vaughn’s extemporaneous riffs on the hierarchy of the cereal aisle, and the slow decline of a briefly god-like musician clad only in gold lamé shorts that Matt Braunger witnessed during his first week in L.A.
Great as they both were, the highlights for this comedy nerd were the first-ever Portland appearance by Look Around You/Friday Night Dinner writer Robert Popper, and a showcase by one of the best tweeters alive Megan Amram. Popper’s set was a multi-media experience, with the UK-based actor playing video clips of his prank calls to some of the weirder talk shows on Sky TV and his call to a White House comments line to provide advice for President Obama’s debate with Mitt Romney (“As a joke, he should call him Nits Romney…you know, so people will think maybe he has nits in his hair?”).
Amram also relied on a laptop for her set but it was to provide us with her arch and beautifully ridiculous PowerPoint PSA in support of “smolkin” [sic]. Among the benefits: weight control and it would have saved the life of Amram’s grandmother who could have been smoking instead of killing herself. Just like Amram’s Twitter feed, it skirted the edge of darkness but was held in check by her knowingly stiff delivery.
Over at the Bagdad Theatre, video director/producer Lance Bangs continued the audio/visual presentations during his fantastic Come Laugh With Us event, spending some time showing clips of his work with the hip-hop group Odd Future (he produces the group’s Adult Swim show Loiter Squad) and an unreleased clip from Jackass that had Johnny Knoxville in a prison jumpsuit, handcuffed, and trying to get the workers at a hardware store to sell him a hacksaw.
These clips were bookended by some amazing stand-up sets by the ever-acerbic Howard Kremer (“This is a song about the night I drank two bottles of sake and took three Vicodin and went and did stand-up. It’s called ‘April 18th, 2013.'”), and a trio of fantastic female comics: Eliza Skinner, Karen Kilgariff and Emily Heller. The whole night was capped by a raging set from Moshe Kasher who burst onto the stage dancing, pacing, and trying to wrench some energy from the sleepy crowd (in their defense it was midnight on a Thursday). He didn’t win that battle, but settled into a nice self-flagellating groove that involved reading an angry letter he wrote an ex-girlfriend when he was 14 and ended with him knocking an idiot frat boy into a puddle of his own piss at Bonnaroo.