Bridgetown closed out Sunday night with what was easily the best show of the festival's three years. While there may have been other comics or shows that split the sides of an audience to the point of muscle fatigue in Bridgetown's short history, Sunday's Closing Night Blowout was phenomenal—a exponential barrage of hilarity.
Ten-odd comics performed to a packed Bagdad Theater and none missed a beat. Everyone held the audience's rapt attention. The nearly four hour long show got better and better and better. By the end, Tig Notaro wrapped up her planned set—a stunning real-world tale of run ins with forgotten pop star Tayor Dayne—and kept going. The audience just was locked in to the point of laughing hysterically at lines that were not, in any shape or form, jokes.
Brody Stevens hosted and did a fantastic job changing gears without squashing the show's momentum. Stevens, who's been everywhere at the festival, has burned out some with his satyrical character: a shameless Hollywood ladder climber. I find it terrific. Coupled with Stevens' ability to improvise, riff without canned jokes, and interact with the audience, he was one of the festival's highlights, right there with Kyle Kinane, James Adomian, Notaro and Maria Bamford. But Sunday, everyone was a star.
Special guests like Saturday Night Live writer Hannibal Burris and T.J. Miller showed up unannounced and killed. Miller's set, performed under the obvious influence of multiple substances, was stunning in it's spontaneity. He did 20-odd minutes on the day's events, which saw him traveling from New Zealand to San Francisco to meet with his girlfriend—upset and irritable because she was hungry—before finally arriving in Portland.
Greg Behrent, writer of "He's Just Not That Into You," rolled with tales of David Lee Roth and touched Portland's hipster contingent with talk of record reviews and Pitchfork before going on to bag on Vampire Weekend. Baron Vaughn showed a wide range of styles and a flexible voice. Matt Braunger, a co-founder of the festival and former Portlander, reveled in his homecoming. Christian Finnegan's set was entirely sex driven but never cloying. It made the festival.
For stand up to really work, the audience has got to go along, and by God, Sunday's crowd at the Bagdad was phenomenal. The performers and audience fed off one another. It was a quite a closing hurrah for the growing festival. Aside from just jokes, it was a celebration of the Bridgetown itself and a validation of Portland's hunger for good comedy.
As the comics who performed (or watched) Sunday return home, I have no doubt they'll share the incredible vibe that was the Closing Night Blowout with friends and colleagues, which means next year's Bridgtown will be even better.
Notes on the rest of the festival after the jump.
A few notes from the rest of the festival:
- Iron Comic really highlights comics at the top of their craft. The name, derivative of Iron Chef, works exactly the same way: comics are given audience selected topics, then ten minutes to write a two minute set. Alex Koll, Morgan Murphy, Tig Notaro, Kyle Kinane and Maria Bamford competed, and few dropped the ball. Murphy, a first-timer to Iron Comic, didn't quite keep pace with the rest, as her style is more of a slow build—dependent on rhythm and mood. Still, she is a upcoming talent worth your time. Kinane took the competition with force shortly after blowing away an audience down at the Bagdad. His acerbic, woe-is-me, drunken but quick-witted style won over everyone who came within earshot.
- Portland loves long-form group improv. Shows by Asssscat and Theme Park were standing room only at the Hawthorne Theatre. Theme Park in particular, featuring Scott Adsit (Pete from 30 Rock) and Danny Pudi (Abed from Community) are simply phenomenal.
- It wasn't perfect. Shows went late. The goddamned schedule was impossible to read. A showcase curated by the folks from Comedy is OK took place beneath a bumping prom dance party at the Hawthorne Theatre, which threw a pretty big wrench in the mood. Some shows were under-attended, or booked in oversized rooms that felt cavernous. Ticket prices for single shows were quite high—indeed the only way to enjoy the festival is with a weekend pass. Even then things can be a bit overwhelming. I missed a number of comics I'd hoped to see, but too many solid shows taken place simultaneously is hardly a bad thing.
- The themed shows—aside from straight comedy—are a geek's heaven. Podcast recordings like Jimmy Pardo's Never Not Funny and the Conan O'Brien Writers Panel were great brain candy.
- Helium Comedy Club, opening this July in Portland, was everywhere. A great lineup for the first few weeks plus diligence pressing the flesh should bode well in the broadening of Portland as a stand up destination.
- Almost every out-of-towner used Portland liberally as a punchile. Most common topics: beards, bikes, and limp-dicked liberals. Still, a lot of them honestly seem to love it here.
- I'm fucking exhausted, but left with a warm glow. I wish every weekend was like Bridgetown.