THE FIRST RULE of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival: Get a wristband. Bouncing from show to show among the eight SE Hawthorne venues is guaranteed fun, and in its fourth year, Bridgetown is bursting with over 180 stand-ups, sketch comics, and more. With so many shows happening at once, some may unexpectedly sag—and you don't want to be stuck when they do. At the same time, others gain ferocious momentum. Different rooms drum up altogether different moods, and you'll want to run the gamut.
Just as good jokes rely on surprise, the best part of Bridgetown is stumbling upon an act you've never heard of. But you've got to start somewhere. The following is a rude and somewhat arbitrary guide to a festival that is raw, unbridled, generous, and at times transformative.
In some ways it's fitting that Bridgetown takes place in the early days of spring. It is burgeoning, young, iconoclastic, and risky—much like Portland's own better instincts. Stand-up comedy is a way to address subjects in a public forum that would be otherwise taboo. So go forth, laugh, and share together.
* Designates local comedian
IRON COMIC = IRON CHEF
Instead of particular ingredients, the contestants of Iron Comic are given themes to incorporate, with just a short amount of time to cook up a funny bit. Watching the strange brains of comedians at work is intriguing aside from the outcomes. Also, witnessing jokes bomb can be as rewarding as when they kill—you really get a deeper look at someone.
The show is emceed by Nato Green, who's run it all over the country, and has the pacing down. Iron Comic doesn't drag. Last year's winner was Kyle Kinane, who returns to defend his title against the likes of Hannibal Buress (former Saturday Night Live writer) and others. Bagdad Theater, Sun 7 pm
THE WORKING MAN'S DRUNK
Speaking of Kyle Kinane—I've watched this comic since Bridgetown's inaugural year, and the drunken, salty motherfucker has climbed to the near top of the pack. Kinane's character is full of self-loathing and drunken Al Bundy-isms. And although he embodies a barrel-chested dockworker, he harbors a viciously sharp wit.
At last year's festival, Kinane ran away with top honors in Iron Comic (see above), and the show's format put the Chicago-born stand-up's stunning quickness to the punch on full display. Against seasoned competition like Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro, and others, Kinane found a roll and made things look easy.
Better yet, his everyman style cuts across all lines—Kinane's the type of blunt realist that anyone with half a soul can relate to. Eagles Lodge, Fri 7 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Thurs 7 & 11 pm, Fri 9:30 pm, Sat 9 pm; Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Sat midnight; Iron Comic, Bagdad Theater, Sun 7 pm
THE ASTOUNDING LOCAL BOY (OKAY, HE'S FROM BEAVERTON)*
Ian Karmel is on one hell of a roll. He just seems to have found it—the style, the voice. In the last year I've seen Karmel play for all kinds of different audiences, both comedy fans and newcomers, Republicans and Democrats, and every time, he busts them up.
Karmel's range is impressive. From really smart premises, to whacked-out hallucinations, to plain old fat jokes, he's got the bases covered. In a way, it's surprising this Beaverton-born comic is still in Portland. He's that good—I've seen professional comics tell him so.
A few years ago Karmel went to LA to test the waters, but it feels like he found his voice after returning to Portland. Since winning the 2010 Portland Amateur Comedy Contest, Karmel's been busting his ass all over town, including hosting a premier showcase at the Brody Theater, being featured on segments of Comcast's Trail Blazers post-game show, and regularly opening for out-of-town headliners. Indeed, Ian Karmel is one of Portland's very best. And a part of me hopes he sticks around—it's nice to have our own badass hustling stand-up. Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Thurs 11 pm, Fri 9:30 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Sat 4 pm; Mt. Tabor Theatre Lounge, Sat 8 pm, Sun 8 pm
IMPRESSIONISM IS A LIVING ART
James Adomian is an impressionist of staggering capability. His subsuming darts borrow from characters like Charles Bukowski (shilling for Levi's), Paul Giamatti (as a hideous squealing pig), and Orson Welles (drunk and gluttonous) on down to less scholastic endeavors and into the skins of Jesse Ventura, Gary Busey, and a ponytailed, Lamborghini-driving landlord. But Adomian does more than mimic—he's an impressionist with something to say, full of fierce views on society and class, with the jokes to match.
Adomian's been at Bridgetown since its founding. In the first year he decimated the Mt. Tabor Theater with an entire set dressed and made-up as then-President George W. Bush. Since then Adomian made the final 10 on NBC's Last Comic Standing, and when voted off, Adomian chided mainstream America for "looking a gift horse in the mouth."
Amid the festival's more cerebral or self-absorbed comics, Adomian's rhythms are a shaking change of pace. It wouldn't be Bridgetown without him. Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Fri 11:30 pm; Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Fri 7 pm; Bagdad Theater, Sat 7 pm
THIS IS A MAN'S WORLD
It's true: More so than most arts, men dominate stand-up comedy. But fuck the naysayers—women are fucking hilarious. Unfortunately, this year's Bridgetown is a little short on the X chromosomes.
Surely it's not by design—it's just how things work out. Still, there are a couple of marvelous ladies to watch. Nikki Glaser was a bright spot in last year's Last Comic Standing on NBC. Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Fri 11 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Lounge, Sat 3 pm; Bagdad Theater, Thurs 8 pm, Sat 7 pm; Eagles Lodge, Sun 7 pm
Among a number of other more notable (but less reliable) credits, Janet Varney writes for Mystery Science Theater 3000's newest outlet, the phenomenal RiffTrax. Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Fri 7:30 pm, Sat 10 pm
And San Francisco's Emily Heller comes highly recommended by local comics. Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Thurs 9 pm; Mt. Tabor Theatre Lounge, Sat 8 pm; Iron Comic, Bagdad Theater, Sun 7 pm
Motherfucker does "Jelloems," free-form poems like "I Wish I Had Titties" and "The Most Fuckable Huxtable." He lives in a shack with Rudy, Lisa Bonet, Theo, and Clair in East LA, slamming heroin next to a shit and piss bucket. The kids eat Jell-O dinners. Born in the manner of Twins, he is the son of Bill Cosby and Charles Bukowski. He is the mind-bending character of Los Angeles comedian Jon Daly. Find him. Mt. Tabor Theatre Lounge, Thurs 10 pm; Bagdad Theater, Fri 8 pm; Mt. Tabor Theatre Main Stage, Fri 11:30 pm, Sat 9 pm; Eagles Lodge, Sun 9 pm
LEADER OF THE REVOLUTION
"List of People Who Will Die in the Revolution," by Hari Kondabolu
1) Anyone who has called their car "ghetto" because their built-in GPS didn't work will die in the revolution.
2) Anyone whose first real job was being the star of a reality television show, and the name of the show wasn't Inner-City Youth Unable to Find Work and Forced to Star in Reality Television Show will die in the revolution.
3) Jimmy Buffett.
4) Anyone who has used the phrase "my grandparents' cottage" in a sentence without it being preceded by the phrase "we had to sell" will die in the revolution.
5) The young woman who inspired the creation of this list, her parents, her siblings, the people at her country club, and the kids who went to her private boarding school—with the exception of the affirmative action and financial-aid students—will die in the revolution.
6) And finally, the woman who boarded the JetBlue flight to Burbank in front of me, who turned to her husband and said, "I hate flying JetBlue because JetBlue does not have first class," will die in the revolution.
In addition to Kondabolu's regular sets, see Laughter Against the Machine, an entire lineup of firebrand performers bent on a similar pol-itical track. Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Fri 11:30 pm; Laughter Against the Machine, Bagdad Theater, Sat 9 pm
THE THINKING MAN'S STONER
Jimmy Dore is always prattling on about his medical marijuana—it seems to get him fired up for politics. Indeed, the veteran touring comic is all about topics that matter. Along with his stand-up oriented podcast, Comedy and Everything Else, Dore hosts a live Pop and Politics radio show and curates an issue-oriented stand-up showcase called Subversive Comedy. He's ready to puff down on Barack Obama's new economic plan, three wars, and a tailspin in national media. Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Thurs 7 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Lounge, Fri 11 pm; Bagdad Theater, Sat 9 pm, Sun 9:30 pm
THE PIZZA DUDE'S STONER
Doug Benson just wants to get high and watch movies. And with the Doug Loves Movies podcast bubbling to the top of iTunes, the Los Angeles comedian is just about living the dream. Although Benson is earnestly ripped to the tits, his wit is sharp and practiced. He may have been high the entire time, but he's also been working hard at stand-up for over 20 years. Comedy Film Nerds, Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Fri 7:30 pm
FAREWELL TO A LOCAL GENIUS?*
Richard Bain has been hoofing around Portland's previously nascent stand-up scene for years. In that time, few have matched his hil-arious reliability. Bain is one of the rare comics who can make people laugh without telling an actual joke. As they say, comedy isn't about saying funny stuff—it's about saying stuff funny.
Bain's got punchlines too, of course. And wicked stoner rants on laziness, self-loathing, and Jimi Hendrix getting kicked out of high school for having sex in the halls. Bain does everything from surprise aggression to commenting on his own set, to surreal stream of consciousness. Above all, the rolly, bushy-haired Bain exudes a magnetic charisma onstage. It's why, for years now, I feel he's been bound for something more—comedy as a professional. Finally, it might be coming true, as Bain's contemplating a move to LA. Could this be his great Portland farewell? Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Fri 11 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Sat 4 pm; Bar of the Gods, Sat 7 pm; Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Thurs 11 pm, Sun 8 pm
Pretty much all of the above can also be said for Ron Funches. Except instead of freaking out from time to time, Funches is always so blissfully high he can barely lift his eyelids. He may be from the South Side of Chicago, but moving to Oregon has turned Funches almost cuddly. He too has been receiving more and more invites for paid and out-of-town work. Funches should also be on the road to turning pro. Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Fri 7 pm, Sun 9 pm; Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Thurs 9 pm, Sat midnight
LAUGHING AT DISABILITY*
Lonnie Bruhn has cerebral palsy and he's going to tell you about it. He'll tell you about jacking off with it, and fucking bus station skanks with it. Underneath though, Bruhn's act isn't so gruff. Through stand-up, he's found a way to deal with his demons, and going through it with him is cathartic. A Portland native, Bruhn's been working and touring professionally for over two decades. It's time you get to know him. Eagles Lodge, Thurs 7 pm; Bagdad Theater, Fri midnight; Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Sun 9 pm
Better to see Andy Dick in a shorter set with other comics. His one-man show could be an absolutely unrehearsed, shit-eating trainwreck. I don't know for sure, of course—but I wouldn't bet against it. Eagles Lodge, Thurs 7 pm; Bagdad Theater, Thurs 10 pm, Sat 5 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Fri 11:30 pm, Sat 7 pm
ANDY KAUFMAN IS ALIVE AND WELL
Brent Weinbach is piss-your-pants weird, and every bit as hilarious. He'll go from booty-dance moves to soul singing to sociopath to the Russian alphabet, and then to the tune of Super Mario Bros. Underworld he'll blurt out, "Penis, penis, penis!" Weinbach, from San Francisco, is a winner of the prestigious Andy Kaufman Award (as is Reggie Watts) and there's no question why. Bar of the Gods, Thurs 7 pm; Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Thurs 9 pm; Eagles Lodge, Fri 9 pm; Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Sat 9 pm; Bagdad Theater, Sun 9:30 pm
ANDY KAUFMAN IS ALSO A GROWING BOY*
In our midst there's a strange boy growing up to be an even stranger comic. Local kid Phil Schallberger is up to some truly avant forms of stand-up. The journey may be a long one, but Schallberger is on his way. Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Thurs 10 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Lounge, Fri 9 pm; Bar of the Gods, Sun 8 pm
YOU'RE GOING TO KNOW HIM
Hannibal Buress is blowing up. He's written for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, made an appearance on Louie, and (my personal favorite) went on tour with Israeli hurricane hairball punks Monotonix. Onstage, Buress is clever, easygoing, and simply hilarious. Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Sat 7:30 pm; Iron Comic, Bagdad Theater, Sun 7 pm; Eagles Lodge, Sun 9 pm
THE SELF-LOATHING JEW
As I learned on Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Moshe Kasher has a pretty wild story. He grew up a child of deaf parents, and got in all kinds of violent trouble growing up. Kasher takes a perverse joy in tiptoeing around, then jumping headfirst into the chasm of the cringingly offensive. On top of that he's a self-loathing Jew. And what would any comedy festival be without some self-loathing Jews? Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Thurs 9 pm, Sat 7:30 pm; Bagdad Theater, Fri midnight; Iron Comic, Bagdad Theater, Sun 7 pm
HE WILL EXPLODE*
Don Frost doesn't write jokes. He simply explodes, ranting about whatever's controlling the frontal lobe in his cacophonic brain. Maybe it's the fancy bread at New Seasons that has his wires crossed. Or the hipsters. Maybe it's his days growing up in Vegas, or his years in the Army. Or perhaps the Viso energy drink that's pulsing through his twisted veins. Regardless of the target, Frost is one of Portland's most astounding improvisers. He is caustic but agreeable, and his spontaneity is staggering to the point of tears. It's a workout—when muscles become sore from laughing and smiling too hard. Mt. Tabor Theater Lounge, Thurs 10 pm; Hawthorne Theatre Lounge, Fri 11 pm; Bar of the Gods, Sat 9 pm
One of Portland's more unique voices, Christian Ricketts is in his own category. Along with meta forms, Ricketts does characters like the effeminate, awkwardly unfunny newcomer at open mic night, the polite cowboy, and a senile old man, and is able to deliver entire sets of jokes written in their voices. Indeed, the longtime Portlander is another comic who continues to explore the world Andy Kaufman discovered. Bar of the Gods, Thurs 11 pm; Eagles Lodge, Fri 7 pm
SHE AIN'T JUST A TV STAR
Kristen Schaal is everywhere these days. She's killing it on The Daily Show, Flight of the Concords, plus in all manner of movies, TV, and web shorts. But Schaal isn't one of those comedic actors with no stage experience who makes the jump to stage just because she can. Indeed, Schaal has gone as far as to perform an hour-long one-woman show. A comedian friend of mine saw it and reported it was "incredible all the way through." Bagdad Theater, Fri 8 pm; Mt. Tabor Theater Main Stage, Sat 9 pm
BLOW YOUR MIND
Don't be afraid of improv. I know what the term conjures: self-indulgent shit. Really, in the right hands, long-form improv comedy is one of the most stunning, brain-twisting, live art forms around. It's about giving, saying yes, and storming ahead. Theme Park, a six-person group including Community's Danny Pudi, is renowned across the country. Try this. You'll be surprised. Theme Park, Hawthorne Theatre Main Stage, Fri 7:30 pm, Sat 10 pm
MORE BOLDFACE NAMES YOU SHOULD NOT MISS:
Nick Thune, Baron Vaughn, Dax Jordan*, Paul Gilmartin, Andrew Michaan*, Mike Drucker, Timmy Williams*, Mikey Kampmann*, and Tim Hammer*
* local comedian