The Bridgetown Comedy Festival is a test of endurance and decision-making skills. Each year, I spend four days going to see comedy, and with a festival so full of options, FOMO is inevitable. Here are the shows and performers I was most entertained by this year. Keep in mind that this is a very small sampling of what was, by all accounts, an overwhelmingly good lineup. We'll have more posts up on the blog later today. In the meantime, here's what I'm going to be laughing awkwardly about in public when I look back on this year's festival.
Competitive Erotic Fanfiction: I've covered Bridgetowns past but never gone to this show, despite frequently hearing good things—and a repeated anecdote about Aparna Nancherla examining "the sexual underpinnings of Dora the Explorer." Or wait, maybe that's why I didn't go? The premise for this show is simple: One group of comics shows up with prepared erotic fanfiction, reads it aloud, and the audience chooses their favorite; the other group has to quickly write erotic fanfiction based on audience suggestions. Those stories are then read aloud and the audience chooses a winner.
Things got weird in the extemporaneous category almost immediately when one of the audience suggestions was "the Underground Railroad." Really? Why? This is like making jokes about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It's always going to be too soon. Josh Androsky was appropriately horrified by the suggestion, and ended up winning the competition with a story about Harriet Tubman that somehow avoided being horrifically offensive while also incorporating a surprise ending featuring Howard Zinn. Guy Branum's story about the members of Genesis was also a treat—a homoerotic parable full, somehow, of Biblical allusions—and Julia Claire's readymade erotica about Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway was extremely gross but chock-full of cathartic insults. Dave Hill's stoner version of Moby-Dick sounded like it'd been written by a third-grader (in a good way). And Troy Walker won the competition for prepared stories with a tale about the Boston Tea Party that was amazingly well written given... everything.
Guy Branum's Gay Bash: You're probably sensing a theme. Guy Branum is one of my favorite stand-ups currently working. He's sharp as can be, his delivery's reminiscent of a pissed-off, very strict teacher who nonetheless wants you to do your best, and his annual celebration of comics who fall on the LGBTQ spectrum was one of the best showcases I saw at Bridgetown this year.
Branum's jokes at the expense of straight men will never not be funny, and you could tell he was genuinely thrilled to be hosting each comic he brought to the stage. I hadn't seen headliner Caitlin Gill perform before, but her riffs on everything from jean jackets as standard-issue lesbian wear to a callback to one of Caitlin Weierhauser's jokes about dildos were quick and hilarious. And speaking of Caitlin Weierhauser: It was also great to see one of Portland's own—and someone whose comedy has, in my estimation, grown exponentially over the past couple years—very much fitting in on a bill with some big names. Every set on this show was good—from Joel Kim Booster's jokes about his homophobic relatives to Natasha Muse's ability to somehow make a joke about pedophiles funny to Janine Brito's quip about dressing like "a junior executive from Mad Men" to Nick Sahoyah's sob story about having to buy shorts at Target. I once got badmouthed on a comic's podcast for not devoting more than one line to her set in a review, so to all of those comics mentioned: You made me laugh. Thank you. You deserve your own goddamn paragraph, but I am only one woman. I have limitations, as do we all.
Robby Hoffman: As always, I tracked stand-ups I'd never seen before who blew me away, and I can't recommend Robby Hoffman more highly. She's like Larry David in the body of a young Canadian Jewish lesbian, with quick-witted jokes about "the UTI" and "eating ecksssss" on public transportation.
Robert Jenkins' Rubik's cube: This is a small thing, but Robert Jenkins' opening bit at Thursday's New Negroes show was one of the only times I've seen a comic bring out a prop and actually make good use of it. Jenkins solves the Rubik's cube while telling very obvious jokes, a gambit that gave new life to tired material, like, you know, "Women be shoppin'!"
Jokes about electoral politics: Comedy is cathartic, and it was actually nice to be able to laugh about politics at this year's festival. In fact, the comics seemed particularly keyed into politics (WONDER WHY). At Sunday night's Bridgetown: The Later Years, Karen Kilgariff mused about how being driven to the airport by an Uber driver who can't talk and have his foot on the gas pedal at the same time is an apt metaphor for life under the Trump administration. And during the same show, dapper host Allen Strickland Williams made a joke about the election that made me laugh about the worst thing that happened last year. The fact that Trump, a man who says awful things on the fly, beat Hillary Clinton, a woman known for her prepared statements, indicates to Williams that the American people chose improv comedy over stand-up. Setting aside the fact that a majority of Americans did vote for Clinton, I think he's right. When I think of our current president as a bad improviser, it makes so much sense. All that's missing is a college basement and a game of Zip-Zap-Zop.