COMEDY IS BUSTING OUT all over town these days, and the latest addition to the scene is this weekend's Stumptown Improv Festival. Unlike stand-up or sketch comedy, improv is made up on the spot, with scenes often based on audience suggestions. Like those other forms, though, improv has seen incredible growth in Portland over the last few years, and the Stumptown Improv Festival promises to showcase local talent alongside guests from California, Minnesota, and Vancouver, BC. Jed Arkley, a member of improv group Whiskey Tango and one of the three founders of the festival (along with Leon Anderson and Erin Jean O'Regan), talked with us about why they're putting on the festival and what to expect.
MERCURY: Why an improv festival, here and now?
JED ARKLEY: Whiskey Tango performed at the Vancouver, BC, International Improv Festival last year, and afterward I had one of those moments of inspiration. I was driving back and I was like, "Oh shit! Portland should have one!" Everything fell into place and it just seemed to make sense.
How have people responded?
The response has been really great. When we first put up a Facebook page, within a couple of days it was at 500 "likes" and we were like, "This is incredible!" And everyone we talked to in the comedy community was really glad we were doing it.
Tom [Johnson] at the Brody Theater put on an improv festival for a few years, but it was close to 10 years ago, I think. But he was especially glad we were taking it on and doing it; [so were] Stacey Hallal at Curious Comedy, Patrick [Short] at ComedySportz, and Shelley McLendon from the Liberators. It was nice to have some of Portland's badasses who do comedy around here get excited about it. And the performers are excited. That's kind of the reason to have a festival, to make a place where people can showcase themselves.
Who are some of the out-of-town groups you're bringing in?
Belmonte is from Upright Citizens Brigade in LA. They're an ensemble group, but they have this real emphasis on "finding the game" in every scene that they play. They find the funny fast and explore the hell out of it. That style isn't exactly the Portland style. They really represent what UCB is doing in improv.
And then Ferrari McSpeedy is from Minnesota. They're one of those two-person groups you get amazed after watching them, like, "Whoa! That was only two people!" I don't know much about the Minneapolis improv scene, so I'm curious. They're teaching a workshop, too, and I'm really looking forward to it.
And the group from Vancouver, BC, is called the Sunday Service. We have them and the Liberators sharing the headline spot on Friday. In 2012 they were named the best improv group in Canada, and they even got a day named after them in Vancouver. Their comic sensibility reminds me of Kids in the Hall, taking these mundane situations and putting a little twist on it. They have this really loose, fun energy that I admire.
How did you select the local acts?
For this year we wanted to showcase Portland improv as well as bring in out-of-town groups. We talked to established groups around town, like Curious and Brody and the Liberators, and said, "We want you to be a part of this," both to showcase Portland and also to honor the fact that we wouldn't be able to even do this show without the work of all these groups. We also had a lot of smaller, newer groups apply. And even the ones who didn't get in, they made a video, they stepped up their game. That's some of the little spark I wanted, giving people a little something to reach for. That's my theory about Bridgetown Comedy Festival, that it helps jumpstart the scene.