Bridgetown Diary: Inside Portland’s annual comedy festival (Daily updates)

By | April 19, 2013 at 5:27 pm | 6 comments | Features, News | Tags: ,

PORTLAND — Bridgetown is comedy Christmas. For the locals like me it usually starts a day early. Kickoff shows on the eve of the festival are filled to the brim with comedy nerds hoping that a comedian of note is in town early. It just so happens Bridgetown favorite Todd Glass stops into to a show at the Tonic Lounge and gives the already-packed show the perfect finale for the night.

When the festival actually starts on Thursday the herd of comedians meet for bourbon and burritos at the pre-party and rub elbows and schmooze for a couple hours before everyone has to go perform. After everyone is full of whiskey we disperse and go to our shows. One of the best things about the festival is that all the venues are located within one mile of one another. This allows fans and performers to show-hop and at least catch a little of all the shows they want to. With 100 shows over four days, attendees are sure to miss one show in order to see another. It’s like Coachella for comedy, but there’s fewer assholes and zero porta potties.

I do my set at The Hawthorne Lounge to a packed room. Then hurry over to the Bagdad to see the opening show at one of the festival’s flagship venues. I get there just in time to see local comedian Tim Hammer take the stage and, with his Rain Man style of comedy, deliver a joke I’ve heard a 1,000 times and still laugh at. A few more comedians bring the crowd good laughs at the 700-seat theater and then Seth Herzog takes the stage to the Wonder Woman theme song while dancing. He pulls off his tear-away pants to reveal a Wonder Woman singlet underneath. After Herzog’s set (performed entirely in the singlet), the crowd is ready for alt-comedy legend Dana Gould.

After his blistering set, the show ends and I run two blocks back to The Hawthorne to see The Pandora Comedy All Stars show. I get a drink and when I walk in, Laura Kightlinger is on stage and delivering the joke “I have had two abortions and it’s true what they say; it’s hard to outlive your kids.” The crowd erupts. Portland native Matt Braunger closes the show to the delight of the packed house.

When the show ends, I run up to the Tanker Bar, where there’s an open mic all weekend, and where some of Bridgetown’s most legendary performances have taken place. I get there in time to witness Todd Glass destroy a heckler and bring the late-night crowd to attention, unifying the room as he’s known to do.

I jump on last and then go to the after-party where I have way to much to drink and dance in a way that resembles a seizure. At 4 am I finagle a ride home from a friend. My girlfriend tells me I smell like a distillery, and I tell her she is prettier than a flower’s smile. I can’t believe I have three more days of this much fun ahead of me. I hope I sleep in just long enough not to miss anything.

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APRIL 20, 2013

Bridgetown, day 2 starts with a hangover. It’s an obvious indication that I should probably not get as drunk as humanly possible. After I scrub up and clear the cobwebs out of my eyes, I go to the Ground Kontrol party. This is one of the most popular events of the festival for comedians. Ground Kontrol is a retro arcade in Portland that, for one afternoon, opens its doors exclusively to Bridgetown performers. It’s like your 6th grade pizza party with a bar, but you and your friends are the ones that are drunk, instead of your parents.

After that mid-day party I head to my biggest show of the festival: Funny Over Everything. I take a special pride in this show; I produce it monthly with comedians Sean Jordan and Ian Karmel. After my set, I sit down to watch the hilarious Dan St. Germain and former Portlander Richard Bain eat the room alive. As the show is winding down, Peter Serafinowicz closes with a hilarious impression of Paul McCartney that ends the packed show on the perfect note.

As the show ends, the crowd and comics alike rush over to Mt. Tabor Theater to see @DadBoner & Friends, You Guys. There’s a line wrapped around the block in anticipation of seeing the wildly popular Twitter personality, Karl Welzein, a.k.a. @DadBoner, in person. If you are not following him on Twitter by now, you must not have the Internet. The crowd can barely contain itself. Comedian Mike Burns, the man behind Karl Welzein, delivers the most absurd pitch for a book I have ever heard. The book, soon to be released, is called Power Moves: Livin’ the American Dream, USA Style. Mike Bridenstine follows and floors the room with a bit about a bullfight he attended.

After @DadBoner & Friends, a fresh crowd packs the room for the highlight of the night for me: Bryan Cook’s Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction, which has possibly the best lineup of the festival: Dana Gould, The Grawlix (Ben Roy, Adam Cayton-Holland, and Andrew Overdahl), Eliza Skinner, Cameron Esposito, Ian Karmel, and Kurt Braunohler, among others. The show is done in two rounds: five comics deliver prepared material and five write backstage based on suggestions from the audience. In the prepared round, Ben Roy’s morbid version of Of Mice and Men is so funny that I find myself bending over at the waist gasping for air. While all pieces were hysterical, it’s clear by the crowd’s reaction to Roy’s piece that he is the winner.

In the second round, Dana Gould has drawn DJ Roomba as his suggestion and writes an amazing script delivered in the voice of Chris Matthews. The audience is squealing with delight. Local favorite Ian Karmel draws Helen Keller as his suggestion, and blows the doors off. Within the piece that he wrote himself into, he “bangs” Helen Keller and her ghost boobs in a variety of ways. He drums the audience into a roar of laughter and establishes himself as a front-runner. The final read of the night comes from Kurt Braunholer, who has drawn Golden Girls. The piece takes place in present day, with all four Golden Girls on hospital gurneys, and is one of the funniest things I have ever heard. Never having seen Braunohler live, I make a note to catch him again this weekend. If he is that funny on a whim, his prepared material must be stellar live. Karmel is declared the winner, but Braunohler is certainly a very close second.

I leave and are on our way to the after-party when we walk past the Tanker Bar (a continuous open mic for festival performers all weekend) to glimpse Richard Bain onstage displaying his nude body— to the delight and horror of the packed bar. I scan the room and realize that everyone is thinking the same thing: Please don’t bend over. We make our way to the after-party which is filled to the brim, as the festival is in full swing. I stay until 4:30 a.m. and share a car ride home with Bryan Cook and another performer. When I get home, I realize I have seen more amazing comedy in two days than most people see in a year— and I have two more days left of Bridgetown.

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April 21, 2013

PORTLAND — Day Three of Bridgetown starts with a slightly less intense hangover. I scarf down a breakfast burrito and call a cab to go to The Simpsons writers’ panel. The panel, moderated by Dana Gould, features Matt Selman, Bill Oakley and Brian Kelley. They open the show with a screening of a recent Portlandia-themed episode. Then Oakley reads a hilarious letter that Matt Groening penned specifically for the Bridgetown crowd. Aside from some insightful Q&A, the highlight of the discussion is definitely the assortment of ridiculous notes from Fox that the four share with the audience. As Gould walks around the room fielding questions, I realize that this is the coolest thing I have ever seen.

When the panel is over I do a short spot for a local news show, then bum a ride over to the Hollywood Theater to see “Iron Comic.” The format is that the Iron Comics have eight minutes to write two minutes of material in three rounds based on suggestions from the audience. The banter between co-hosts Nato Green and Moshe Kasher is so smooth it creates an ideal setting for performers Emily Heller, Guy Branum, Gould, Baron Vaughn and Blaine Capatch. The first suggestion for the performers is middle-school boys. While the comedians go write, Nato delivers a short set. As he finishes, the Iron Comics return to deliver their two minutes each.

After they receive the second suggestion, “Garfield’s lasanga,” Kasher treats the crowd to a particularly spectacular set. Once again the comedians return to the stage, and Capatch seems to get the most out of the “Garfield’s lasagna” topic. The final suggestion is Hulk Hogan, and the defining line of the show comes from Branum: “If Florida was a person, it would be Hulk Hogan.” After the third round, the judges choose Heller and Branum to compete in the sudden death round and Heller comes out the victor, but Branum provides some stiff competition. He even provides the crowd with a top-half striptease to bring the show to an end.

My next stop is the Bagdad Theater for “Kurt Tub,” hosted by Kurt Braunohler and boasting some of the biggest names on the festival’s lineup, including Reggie Watts, Gould (again!) and Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz. There is literally a line of 400 snaking up and down the block in anticipation of this show. Braunohler begins the show by asking the crowd to boo him for a Vine video, which also entails having one audience member scream “Get the fuck off stage!” After Kurt’s killer set, Gould comes out and tells the funniest story I have ever heard about meeting someone you admire—in his case, Bob Hope. I have to leave early in order to do another set at the Tanker Bar, which goes well, and then I head across the street to the Eagles Lodge to do my scheduled set.

I hang around to watch my good friend, Seattle comedian Derek Sheen, perform before I walk over to catch the closing show at Mt. Tabor Theater. I am in the door just in time to see Richard Bain rolling a joint on stage during his set. I walk into the green room to grab a beer (only my second of the day) and chat for a bit. Then I go out to watch Natasha Leggero charm the audience, followed by Todd Glass who is brilliant, as usual. Reggie Watts comes out to close the show and beatboxes the crowd into hysterics, then brings the entire bill of the show onstage to sing with him.

The crowd gives a standing ovation. At our third after-party of the weekend, there is nothing but love between the 200 comedians. Hugs, kisses and dancing abound. By the time I get home, the birds are chirping and I realize there’s only one more day left of the fest. Not to worry, though, it’s sure to be the grand finale we have come to expect from Bridgetown.

Be sure to subscribe to the weekly Laughspin Podcast on iTunes or on SoundCloud for all the latest comedy news, audio clips and more! Listen to the most recent episode below!

April 22, 2013

It’s the final day of Bridgetown and I actually got a few hours of sleep last night. I take a quick shower and decide to walk over to Hawthorne, the street where almost all the venues are located. After consuming Sizzle Pie pizza for three straight days I figured I could use the exercise. My roommate, Ian Karmel, and I talk about the best parts of the festival. We part ways and I stop at Zack’s Shack to get a hot dog. After I grub down the healthiest meal I have had all weekend I head to the Mt. Tabor Theater, where the Paul Goebel Show has already started. This is very special episode for a few reasons, the first being comedy icon Gallagher is on it, and the second is that it’s the final taping of the long-running podcast. The other two guests are a local comedian Xandeur Deveaux and veteran comedian Myq Kaplan. The show has a wonderful energy and it’s not hard to see why Paul and his co-host Jim Bruce have been doing this for seven years. The show comes to an end and the fans, who all of them seem to be avid listeners of the show, deliver thunderous applause.

As I make my way over to the Bagdad Theater for the closing show, I’m a little sad there are only two shows left of the festival. For an event that spans four days and features 100 shows, it just never seems to last long enough. I’m greeted with a familiar sight: a huge line is stretching down the street. The incredibly charming and funny Phoebe Robinson is the perfect host for the show. The crowd is enraptured, bending over with laughter and going with every performer no matter how abstract or traditional the comedian is. Sadly I have to leave early in order to do my last set of the festival.

I walk out and a festival volunteer offers to give me a ride to the White Owl Social Club, a new venue this year and one I am excited to perform there as I’ve heard nothing but good things. This is the closing show of the festival and I am terribly thankful to be a part of it. After my set I watch the rest of the show and I’m overwhelmed with joy. Peter Serafinowicz and Baron Vaughn have a one-liner-off. Essentially it’s the funniest rap battle I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed it so much I can’t even remember who gives up first. Shortly after that, Natasha Leggero does a set and the Chelsea Lately regular whips the crowd into a frenzy of laughter and hysterics. The last act of the entire festival is Ron Funches. We local comedians are proud to see one of our own doing so well in the comedy game. He crushes the room and ends his set with a very endearing “Thank you for your time.”

The final after-party is in the same venue and we all hug and remark that this is the greatest Bridgetown yet. At one point during the party, comedy legend Blaine Capatch brings the man behind the festival, Andy Wood, to the stage for a speech. This has happened before and every year I hear the speech I put my arm around the person closest to me and tell them how lucky we are. As the party winds down and comes to an end, I run into a dear friend, Bridgetown Executive Producer Charlene Conley, and thank her for everything. Then she thanks me for being there and I realize one of the reasons the festival is so incredible is because the people who produce it and put in the insane hours actually love comedy. There are a few people who deserve to have their names on a marquee for all the hard work they put into this festival. They are Andy Wood, Helen Vank, Whitney Streed, Charlene Conley, Kate Montgomery, Doug Gale and Maura Brown. Comedy summer camp has come to an end, and I’m already excited for next year.

Be sure to subscribe to the weekly Laughspin Podcast on iTunes or on SoundCloud for all the latest comedy news, audio clips and more! Listen to the most recent episode below!

About the Author

Shane Torres

Shane Torres is a Portland-based comedian who co-produces the recurring live show Funny Over Everything.

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  • Dazer

    Had a lot of fun this weekend. No regrets about buying the wristband. WOULD have regretted spending $80 on a few shows, though, as not a one felt like I got a lot of bang for the buck. So going to MANY shows made it worth it. In fact, went with some friends who I think really regretted paying $60 for two tickets to the Kurt Tub on Saturday night. It might have been we sat so far back, but it was just a so-so bill. My problem is there are too many performers on one bill for any one performer to really get into a groove as their sets are so short. That would be my biggest wish for next year–more time for each performer, fewer performers on each bill. While I like Shane Torres as a comedian, I found his reviews far more flattering than my experience was for each of the shows he reviewed. And to each his own.

  • ComedyVidz

    Kurt and Ian were hilarious at Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction, but gotta disagree with you on one point – Eliza Skinner’s Jason Schwartzman/Wes Anderson sex story was the close second! Hilariously written and performed by Eliza.

    • Aestro

      Agreed – the second round in general was insanely good, especially given the short timeframe, but I thought Eliza and Ian were neck-and-neck.

  • Dazer

    Dana Gould was on fire last night! His “retard” bit on the Pandora Stage nearly had my wife stroking out. Am going to try to catch as much of him as I can. Also want to catch Peter Serafinowicz (with and without Robert Popper) and Todd Glass, who were partying it up outside and having a good time with those of us in line for the Erotic Fan Fiction at the 11 pm show at Tabor. Unfortunately, fire truck and ambulance were in demand there for some reason and so didn’t get in until 11:30. Good show going on once inside, the crowd was lovin’ it, but it got to be too late and got too tired to stick around to the end. This is a marathon, not a sprint!

  • Cat

    Tim Hammer always cracks me up. I love the slow burn reaction of the crowd — it’s such an interesting dynamic! I have some master punsters as friends, and they need to get to see him.

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