Six-Year Check-In Q&A with Festival Director Andy Wood
Andy Wood founded Bridgetown in 2008, along with his friends Kim Brady and fellow comedian Matt Braunger. The fest's inception is a matter of local lore at this point ("Shucks guys, Portland oughta have a comedy festival." "Let's do it!"), and over the past six years local comedy fans have had the distinct pleasure of watching Bridgetown transform from a scrappy fest with an uncertain future into the thriving behemoth it is today. Over the years, the festival's offerings have grown to encompass improv and podcasts, and it's expanded beyond the reliable SE 50th and Hawthorne hub to include venues like the Hollywood Theatre and the White Owl Social Club.
As always, the Bridgetown lineup offers an accessible mix of returning comics such as Natasha Leggero, Moshe Kasher, and Reggie Watts, and local favorites like Ian Karmel, Christian Ricketts, Shane Torres, and Anthony Lopez. This year, though, boasts more first-time festival performers than ever; more than half of the festival's lineup are performers who have never performed at Bridgetown before. "Because we had such a large number of applicants, we were able to be really selective," explains Wood, "and I think audiences are going to love getting to see so many new, great comics." There are also a ton of podcasts on deck this year, including the ever-popular Who Charted? and Paul Gilmartin's bracingly honest, always-enlightening Mental Illness Happy Hour.
Wood, a former Portlander, has been living in LA since 2011, but he has no plans to quit organizing the Portland-based festival. And the future looks bright: "We're going to try to get some really big names for next year and look into partnering with larger venues for a special event show tied in with the festival," he says. "The dilemma with booking the festival is that lots of touring comics don't want to burn the market by doing the festival, since they can come here on their own and fill big theaters, so we'd like to try to find a best-of-both-worlds way to get some of those huge draws in town for Bridgetown for more traditional headlining shows. We'd also like to record a Best of Bridgetown album up here at some point. Not sure if that'll be 2014, but it's something that we've been kicking around."
Art and Comedy Get Married and Have a Baby
Usually when a show threatens to "blur the lines" between one medium and another, it's a pretty good clue you should give that show a wide berth. Picture This! is onto something, however, with its combination of live comedy and visual art.
The LA-based show invites animators, cartoonists, and artists to draw on a tablet during a stand-up's set, and the sketches are projected in real time onstage during the show. Artists are challenged to create spontaneously, in front of an audience, which is a far cry from most artists' solitary practice, and the comfortable patter of a stand-up's routine is disrupted by the fact that someone is drawing a cat in a bikini or a wizard doin' it doggy-style on the screen behind them. The show fucks with the comfort levels of both artist and comics, adding an element of spontaneity that could lead to brilliance. Or it could bomb horribly! Only one way to find out. At the Portland show, local artists will join LA-based animators to illustrate comedy from Moshe Kasher, Chris Fairbanks, Myq Kaplan, and others.
Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, Sat April 20, 7 pm, $20
It's @DadBoner, You Guys!
Mike Burns Unveils His Unholy Creation
Karl Welzein is from Grand Blanc, Michigan. Maybe you've seen his tweets—under the handle @DadBoner? Things are a little rough for ol' Karl. He's on the outs with his wife and kids. He's been living in his Chrysler Sebring, and Papa John's doesn't deliver to cars. His best friend changed the locks.
But Karl's spirits are pretty good. He still loves Mötley Crüe and sitting down to a cold one, or five. (Or 12.) And, you guys—he really likes the bold new flavors Taco Bell's been experimenting with lately.
@DadBoner is the creation of comedian Mike Burns, who's hilariously chronicled Welzein's hijinks, 140 characters at a time, since 2010. Burns kept his identity as @DadBoner's creator a secret for two years, until Deadspin outed him in 2012.
The Bridgetown showcase DadBoner and Friends, You Guys will feature stand-up from comedians Matt Braunger, Ian Karmel, Mike Bridenstine, and Todd Glass, as well as a reading from Burns' upcoming book Power Moves: Livin' the American Dream, USA Style by Karl Welzein.
Really looking forward to the weekend, you guys.
Mt. Tabor Theater, 4811 SE Hawthorne, Fri April 19, 9 pm, $20
Podcasts. They're a Thing.
From Self-Help to Straight-up Laughs
THERE'S SOMETHING very personal about putting a comedian inside your ear, and there's no accounting for taste—one listener's weekly highlight is another's Car Talk. This might explain how the world is able to support so damn many podcasts, many of them helmed by comedians. Podcasts have become a regular part of Bridgetown's lineup, mirroring the growth of podcasting as a force in comedy.
Paul Gilmartin's The Mental Illness Happy Hour stands out in the crowded podcast field, in part because—although Gilmartin is a comedian—his show isn't a comedy podcast. Gilmartin invites his guests (who range in notoriety from the likes of Paul F. Tompkins to people Gilmartin meets in group therapy) to discuss their struggles with depression, anxiety, addiction, and a whole lot more. His stated goal is to remind listeners suffering from mental illness that they're not alone, and to encourage people to seek help rather than trying to manage their conditions on their own.
A remarkable community has grown around the site, which includes forums, guest bloggers, and anonymous surveys on subjects like "Body Shame" ("What do you like or dislike about your body and why?"), the results of which Gilmartin shares in the show. Tempering the rawness of a self-help seminar with Gilmartin's irreverent sense of humor, The Mental Illness Happy Hour really is something special. (w/Karen Kilgariff; Mt. Tabor Theater, 4811 SE Hawthorne, Sat April 20, 2 pm, $15)
On a similarly introspective—though distinctly lower-stakes—note, Janet Varney's podcast The JV Club invites lady comedians to talk about their awkward teen years—the Bridgetown edition features the knockout lineup of Natasha Leggero and Karen Kilgariff. The rest of the podcasts taping at Bridgetown are more conventionally comedy oriented, from Greg Behrendt and Dave Anthony's Walking the Room (this taping's guests include the wonderful Todd Glass and—get this—Gallagher) to Howard Kremer's popular Who Charted?, featuring guests Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz. "Live podcast taping" really translates to "slightly more structured comedy show," and those offered this year promise to be some of the festival's highlights.
An Afternoon with The Simpsons
LONGTIME SIMPSONS WRITER Dana Gould hosts a panel with producer Matt Selman and writer Brian Kelley, promising trivia, history, and a behind-the-scenes look at ideas that didn't make it into the show's final cut (Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne, Sat April 20, 2 pm, $20). Simpsons creator Matt Groening was kind enough to share a piece of trivia with us about the show's many Portland connections; test your Springfield IQ by picking out the true statement from the list below:
(A) In high school, Matt Groening worked at the Multnomah Greyhound Park, where he and his coworkers supplemented their shifts with a combo of Schlitz malt liquor and 'ludes known as Satan's Little Helper.
(B) Lisa Simpson was inspired by Groening's stint at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Groening described Lisa as "a composite of every hippie-ass, granola-eating Evergreen student who made my college years a real life in hell."
(C) Krusty the Clown was inspired by former Portland TV clown Rusty Nails, author of the autobiography Send in the Clowns, who was reportedly once accused of "brainwashing" young Portlanders by incorporating religious themes into his act.
(D) While attending grade school at Ainsworth Elementary, young Groening spent so many after-school hours cleaning the chalkboards that he was eventually hospitalized for a persistent, hacking cough.
In Which We Do the Work for You
Half the fun of Bridgetown is buying a weekend pass, and then wandering around to see what catches your fancy. But if you're planning to see just a few shows—or if, like my ex-boyfriend, you enjoy mapping out a schedule using three different colors of highlighter—here are some of the shiny, big-name shows you probably won't want to miss.
You can be forgiven some skepticism about the premise, but there's no arguing with this lineup of comics who are all, apparently, very good at Twitter: Robert Popper, Peter Serafinowicz, Matt Braunger, Baron Vaughn.... White Owl Social Club, 1305 SE 8th, 7 pm, $15
All Jane No Dick
The great Portland comedy fest dedicated to female comics gets its own stage, headlined by the preposterously charming Alice Wetterlund. Eagles Lodge, 4904 SE Hawthorne, 8 pm, $15
Lance Bangs Presents: Come Laugh with Us
Local director Lance Bangs has impeccable taste and lots of cool friends (he's currently directing Marc Maron's new stand-up special in New York). Come Laugh with Us is Bangs' showcase of some of his favorite stand-ups (like Moshe Kasher, Howard Kremer, and Emily Heller), plus clips from his own collection of rare and unreleased comedy footage. Basically, it's a chance to spend a whole evening cradled in the loving curatorial embrace of one of Portland's most diehard comedy nerds. Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne, 10 pm, $25
Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction
Bryan Cook's Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction debuted at last year's Bridgetown, and has since become a popular touring show. The rules are simple: Audience members submit TV and movie titles; comics draw a title at random, and are given half an hour to create an original piece of fan fiction—erotic fan fiction—about whatever they've drawn. (Last year's Friday Night Lights-themed Tami Taylor gang bang was a festival bright spot.) The lineup kills: Dana Gould, Kurt Braunohler, Cameron Esposito.... Mt. Tabor Theater, 4811 SE Hawthorne, 11 pm, $25
Funny Over Everything
The essential local showcase rolls out a Bridgetown edition headlined by the great British comic Peter Serafinowicz and rounded out with Dan St. Germain and a handful of your favorite Portland comics. Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, 7 pm, $15
Eagles Lodge Early Show
SNL vet Laura Kightlinger is one of the festival's must-see comics, and the likeable David Huntsberger joins her on this early bill at the always-fun Eagles Lodge. Eagles Lodge, 4904 SE Hawthorne, 7 pm, $15
The Super Serious Show
Whatever you do, make sure you catch Dana Gould in a headlining set. He's out front at this show that offers sketch, stand-up, and videos, which is a nice change of pace from more stand-up-heavy shows. Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE Cesar E. Chavez, 9 pm $25
Best of the Bay
The Bay Area thinks it's sooooo funny. Like they need their own showcase. Who do they got... Moshe Kasher... Karen Kilgariff, Emily Heller.... Oh. Okay. Never mind. Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE Cesar E. Chavez, 11 pm $20
The brilliant creators of the spoof-educational program Look Around You are joined by the very funny Kurt Braunohler for an afternoon show that's mathematically incapable of not being awesome. Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne, 4 pm, $25
A festival highlight, Iron Comic is competitive, fast, and funny as hell, as some of the festival's most hilarious comics go head-to-head in bits they make up on the spot. Dana Gould is a favorite this year, but my money's on Moshe Kasher. Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, 5 pm, $25
Kurt Braunohler's popular show is another one of those "everyone you want to see on one bill" shows, including Dana Gould, Reggie Watts, Peter Serafinowicz, Matt Braunger, and Emily Heller. Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne, 8 pm, $30
A popular LA comedy showcase snags some festival heavy-hitters for its Bridgetown installment, including Dana Gould, Greg Behrendt, Laura Kightlinger, and Cameron Esposito. Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE Cesar E. Chavez, 9 pm, $25
Some skepticism of improv comedy is a healthy thing—but lower your defenses long enough to catch this show, featuring The Office's Oscar Nuñez, and the hilarious, glamorous, and slightly terrifying Natasha Leggero. Mt. Tabor Theater, 4811 SE Hawthorne, 4 pm, $20
Bagdad Closing Show
If you've never seen Reggie Watts, please just do us all a favor and attend this show so we don't have to try to explain his brilliant comedy... music... thing to your ignorant ass. He headlines a top-notch closing-night show, with a special appearance from hometown hero Ron Funches. Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne, 8 pm, $30
Put Your Hands Together
Hosted by Cameron Esposito—who's gonna be a Bridgetown favorite this year, if I know anything about anything—and featuring Reggie Watts, Karen Kilgariff, and Laura Kightlinger. Mt. Tabor Theater, 4811 SE Hawthorne, 10 pm, $25