ANDY WOOD has been watching stand-up for the better part of the day. For the last week, really. Family vacation be damned.
Wood seems a bit overwhelmed. Or at least on high alert. Now living in Los Angeles, the former Portlander and producer/co-founder/co-booker of Portland's Bridgetown Comedy Festival has his hands full. It's hours to deadline and submissions from comedians begging for a spot in the fest keep pouring in. Loads of 'em. Twice as many as last year. Wood won't say exactly how many, but they stretch well into the hundreds.
At midnight Wood's website will stop accepting applications, at which point he can expect a flood of post-deadline emails and text messages. Pleas for favors, second chances, and dubious tales of circumstantial woe.
But the deadline is still a few hours off. In the meantime, he's got other fish to fry.
LA's Improv Comedy Lab shares a wall with the legendary Hollywood Improv. The Lab is a black box with a one-foot-tall stage and about 25 seats. Mostly folding chairs. It's adorned with warm red rugs, a piano, and a few odd pieces of handmade wall art. Understated and minimal, but powerful in its proximity. Hallowed grounds. There are murals of Richard Lewis, Andy Kaufman, and Robin Williams out front.
Tonight the Lab will show Jason Nash Is Married, a web series entering its second season. Wood helped with sound and production. In the show, Nash—a stand-up himself—navigates a cloistered, coincidental Los Angeles much like Larry David's in Curb Your Enthusiasm. But instead of bumbling around the top like David, Nash toils. His work has yet to pay off, and he's afraid it may never.
The 10-minute episodes (which will screen at Bridgetown) are awash in Los Angeles stand-up talent—many of whom have found the success Nash's character desires, including Andy Richter, Nick Swardson, H. Jon Benjamin, Paul F. Tompkins, and Andrew Daly. Wood himself makes a brief appearance alongside Rob Corddry and Paul Scheer.
The show is a taste of the larger scene Wood has encountered since moving to Los Angeles in January of 2011. He left for a number of reasons. Opportunity. His own comedic aspirations. A girl. Change.
And to get a bit of space from Bridgetown.
"It got weird going to open mics in Portland," Wood says of the days before he left. "People were treating me different." Hoping to get spots at the fest, comics began politicking. Quickly though, as comedians are wont to do, Wood's self-doubt emerges.
"But... maybe it's just in my head," he says. "I mean, I'm not the best comic ever."
Wood met April Richardson, the aforementioned lady who inspired his move, at Bridgetown in 2010, where she was performing. Along with stand-up, Richardson writes for Chelsea Lately.
After the screening at the Lab, Wood and Richardson walk back to her West Hollywood apartment where the two will continue sifting through the mountain of festival submissions.
Three others complete the jury: one-time Portland comic Rylee Newton and festival co-founders Kim Brady and Matt Braunger (who recorded his second album for Comedy Central Records at the Alberta Rose Theatre last October). Through Google chats, iPhones, and shared spreadsheets everyone is connected and working in tandem. The submissions are graded and commented on by each member of the jury.
"Kind of a bro."
"Does okay in the right setting."
They watch clip after clip. It's a cross-country tour of dirty bars and shitty jokes. So many clubs. Eerily similar. Fall asleep in one and wake up in another. Red brick walls. Cityscapes. Zany '80s fonts and shitty puns.
The stand-ups are more diverse. As many women as men. Black, white, and in between. Lesbians and Indians, geeks, twerps, and assholes. Freaks, jocks, and theater kids. Their senses of humor are just as broad. So many sad people.
A pretty female comedian is next. She's good. Wood says yes. "What the fuck?" Richardson laughs. "Is this how you're going to meet your next girlfriend?"
Sometimes the decision is immediate. Yes. Absolutely. They're in. Other times it's sticky. How representative is this clip? Maybe it's good—but is it Portland? The jury splits. Come back to it. Onto the next. Oh Sweet Jesus, this is horrible. Stop.
By 2 am, Wood has seen enough. It's getting mushy. He wonders if he has enough marquee names on the bill and worries that he doesn't.
This year, the fifth annual festival is in part a victim of its own success. In years past, Bridgetown was the only viable stop for stand-ups like Patton Oswalt, Natasha Leggero, and Maria Bamford. Thanks to Portland's vibrant and growing stand-up community, artists of similar caliber now visit on a regular basis.
But the boom goes beyond Portland. After all, it's been the year of the podcast.
As well as propelling comedians into living rooms, earbuds, and car stereos a few times each week, podcasting has invigorated stand-up in general. The relatively new medium enables fans to develop not only more complex relationships with the comics they follow, but as the intricacies of doing stand-up are so often dissected, listeners also gain a wider appreciation of the craft itself. It's been good for business.
It also makes Bridgetown harder to book. Comics simply have more work. If they're not already playing elsewhere, they've been to Portland recently or they're scheduled to come soon.
But despite Wood's initial fears, 2012's lineup is as robust as ever. It's a mix of old favorites, intriguing new names, live tapings, improv, and a smattering of multimedia. And the feeling like anything could happen. Among many comedians in the larger scene, Bridgetown is something special. Something many comics are proud to support.
And while a big name or two might help ensure the bottom line, festivalgoers benefit more from a full-bodied bill. One with fat in the middle. A steady cavalcade of styles and voices, where stand-ups and the crowd feed off one another, swirling exponentially beyond their singular means.
Which is exactly why Wood will get up early the next morning and continue plowing through the mountain of submissions.
Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Thurs April 12-Sun April 15, individual shows range from $10-30, festival pass $70-90, see bridgetowncomedy.com for a complete schedule
MISS AT YOUR PERIL!
We didn't have enough space to list every performer's show over the course of the festival, so check out bridgetowncomedy.com for the complete schedule. Just to get you started, we listed each comedian's first performance of the weekend.
James Adomian—An absolute fucking gem. The impressionist with something to say. Mt. Tabor Theater Main, Thurs April 12, 9 pm, $15
Richard Bain—One of Portland's best who moved to LA last year. It'll be a well-deserved homecoming. Hollywood Theatre, Fri April 13, 11:30 pm, $15
Maria Bamford—Jittery pug lady with a rubber face and command of crazy voices, her mental illness works better than it sounds. Hawthorne Theatre Main, Thurs April 12, 8 pm, $20
Todd Barry—Says the New York Times: "[Barry's delivery] has a musical quality that would make someone who doesn't speak English giggle." Bagdad Theater, Sat April 14, 10 pm, $30
Doug Benson—The day's preeminent pot comic is sharper than he lets on. Fun for more than just the stoners. Hollywood Theatre, Fri April 13, 9 pm, $15
Matt Braunger—Local goofball makes good. He loves the awkward. Hawthorne Theatre Main, Thurs April 12, 10 pm, $15
David Cope—A dry delivery from a very funny and literate former Portlander. Hawthorne Theatre Main, Thurs April 12, 10 pm, $15
Jimmy Dore—The source for bits on the presidential race. Bossanova, Thurs April 12, 8 pm, $20
Mike Drucker—Videogame nerd. Vampire fan-fic writer. Hilarious man. Eagles Lodge, Sat April 14, 10 pm, $15
Ron Funches—Portland comic making the next step. Killed on Conan. His bits are hammered out to the last syllable. Bagdad Theater, Thurs April 12, 10 pm, $15
Jon Glaser—The distinctive face behind some of Conan O'Brien's all-time great sketches and characters, as well as Cartoon Network's Delocated. Hawthorne Theatre Main, Fri April 13, 7 pm, $20
Myq Kaplan—A clever, concise (and vegan) joke writer whose material crosses over. Helium Comedy Club, Thurs April 12, 7:30 pm, $15
Ian Karmel—A leader in Portland comedy. Bar of the Gods, Thurs April 12, 9 pm, $10
Hari Kondabolu—Comedy's Chuck D. Political, wicked smart, and still funny as fuck. Bagdad Theater, Fri April 13, 10 pm, $15
Jamie Lee—Does a lot with insecurity and beauty standards. Theme sounds dark, but the performance is bubbly. Helium Comedy Club, Thurs April 12, 7:30 pm, $15
Anthony Lopez—A charming, sweet, and self-deprecating up-and-comer on the cusp of Portland's top tier. Bossanova, Thurs April 12, 8 pm, $20
Mary Lynn Rajskub—The crossroads of sexy and awkward geek. Hawthorne Theatre Main, Fri April 13, 7 pm, $20
Christian Ricketts—A local stalwart with a trunk full of tremendous characters and weird, meta excursions. Hawthorne Theatre Main, Fri April 13, 11 pm, $10
Amy Schumer—Unrelentingly harsh and downright brutal, she wants to make you cringe. Bagdad Theater, Sat April 14, 10 pm, $30
Brody Stevens—Like cilantro—you either love or hate his blustery, self-mythologizing, hyper-positive persona. Something different, to be sure. Eagles Lodge, Thurs April 12, 9 pm, $15