IF YOU just moved to Portland and enjoy laughing, you've got impeccable timing: We're currently experiencing a golden age of comedy. From tiny showcases in nontraditional spaces (what up, Earthquake Hurricane) to big-deal festivals (Bridgetown Comedy Fest, All Jane Comedy Fest) bringing in big names alongside stars of the local scene, to live talk shows (Late Night Action with Alex Falcone, Live Wire!), comedy fans in Portland can get their chuckle fix nearly every night of the year. Here's where to start:
Do you love smart stand-up that's feminist-informed, queer-friendly, inclusive, ethnically diverse, and refreshingly free of misogynistic bullshit? WELL YOU HAVE COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE, MY FRIEND. Portland's comedy scene is one of the most progressive around, with a plethora of open mics and showcases that are the delightful antithesis to the white bro-dude jokes about crazy ex-girlfriends you're likely to find elsewhere. There's an element of that here, too (like a horror film monster, it's hard to eradicate for long), but there're also fantastic lady-led shows like Lez Stand Up, the "feminist, lesbian, funny, and terribly good-looking" showcase launched by the hysterically funny Kirsten Kuppenbender, featuring regular performers like Caitlin Weierhauser and Laura Anne Whitley. Similarly minded is Am I Right, Ladies?, a showcase co-hosted by Barbara Holm and Jen Tam, which features a mix of stand-up, live music, and live art from women and non-binary performers.
Yet another wonderful showcase that would make "social justice warrior" phobes quake in their boots? Minority Retort, Portland's only regular showcase specifically for comedians of color. It's organized by comedian Jeremy Eli and Jason Lamb, host of the Karl Show! (Starring Jason) on the Funemployment Radio network. Lamb's called the monthly show "just another one of the bullets that I'm using to try to strike out against the whole 'whitest city in America' thing, which I've really just railed against ever since I moved here." Minority Retort draws a much more diverse audience than you usually find in Portland comedy, and it's featured some great Pacific Northwest performers, including Portland's Funniest Person runner-up (and Mercury contributor) Bri Pruett and Seattle's Elicia Sanchez.
Portland's comedy scene is the only one I've covered that's so progressive it's drawn at least one documented protest. This happened last year, during the annual women- and transgender-focused All Jane No Dick Comedy Fest (now rebranded as All Jane), which was founded in part due to women's underrepresentation in comedy—All Jane's organizers estimate that only 17-19 percent of people working in the comedy industry are women. During All Jane, that percentage goes up to 100, with women from across the country flocking to several Portland venues for a packed weekend of shows. At last year's All Jane, a lone male protester vandalized festival posters and lobbed accusations of "outright segregation." It was good publicity.
If you're new to Portland comedy, it's a good idea to get your feet wet at one of these specialized showcases, or an open mic (Helium and Curious Comedy both have good ones). Then, when big festivals like All Jane and Bridgetown roll around, you'll be ready to jump in with the city's most devout joke nerds. After a year covering the scene, I can assure you this: They're good company.
More Newcomers' Guide Articles:
Welcome to Portland!
Rain! Rain! Rain! Rain!
A Portlander's Pronunciation Guide
A Newcomers' Guide to Making Friends
Portland Free Stuff
Getting Around Town
Finding a Place to Live
How to Apologize for Moving to Portland
Bicycle Death Traps
Portland History 101
Portland Myth Bustin'!
Portland Tourist Traps