Risky Business 

Trust in the Bridgetown Comedy Fest

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COMEDY IS HARD.

And doing the hard thing isn't what we Americans are best at these days. Health care got kneecapped just like banking regulation will soon be. Shit, it's hard enough to eat right. And I like my four-ply baby-soft toilet paper.

So just stay home. Fire up the flat screen, dig a joint out of that oak box on the fireplace, and order Chinese. There's more on TiVo, Hulu, and Netflix than at the movie theaters anyway. And fuck, it's just so easy.

And to think, on some nights, I wonder why I can't even give away an extra ticket to see a standup comedy show.

Everyone likes to laugh. But for many the memory or fear of a bad comedy show looms large. Without risk, the saying goes, there is no reward—but without proper tools, we're like Bernie Madoff's fish in a barrel, waiting to get suckered into some shitty show full of flat jokes and expensive drink minimums.

Part of the risk, especially in Portland, has been due to the lack of forward-thinking comedy clubs. Thankfully, that's starting to change. There's Curious Comedy Theater, which focuses more on group performance than standup. Plus, Helium Comedy Club, which has an established reputation for top-tier standup in Philadelphia, is scheduled to open a Portland location in July. These clubs must fill a much-needed role: the vetter.

Movies have trailers and star recognition. Bands have radio, descriptive names, and re-playable albums. But unless you're willing to do some digging, comedians have, at best, two minutes on Letterman or a censored, commercial-laden special in a bunk time slot on Comedy Central.

So we need someone to help sift away the shit. The Bridgetown Comedy Festival, now in its third year, does just that. It's like having an inside man at Goldman Sachs—risk is reduced while reward skyrockets.

Testament to Bridgetown's quality, word of the festival has spread quickly across the country. The inaugural festival hosted 50 or 60 comics. This year it's up to 170 and counting. Founder Andy Wood is still fielding requests from comics—including national headliners—wanting to perform. Some even offer to pay their own way.

"Patton Oswalt did that the first year," says Wood. "Without that I'm sure we would've stopped doing the festival, because I don't think it would've broke even." Wood has yet to profit from the festival, but that too could be changing.

"The fact that we have now been around for three years gives more legitimacy to potential sponsors and venues and everyone we work with," says Wood. "So everything gets a little easier."

It's encouraging to see Bridgetown still picking up steam. I feared for the festival last year when Wood told me he would be moving to Seattle to take a content-writing job at Microsoft—there just wasn't good work in Portland. He assured me Bridgetown would continue unabated and it's come to pass.

"I love Portland," says Wood. "That's not going to change. I see myself as a Northwest person, probably for the rest of my life." Furthermore, he sees Bridgetown as a uniquely Portland festival.

"Part of me thinks the audience is always there," he says. "They just need to be coaxed out to these shows and be shown there's something great happening."

DON'T MISS:

Scott Adsit—He's Pete from 30 Rock and a veteran of Second City. What else do you need to know? Adsit will mostly be doing long-form improv at the fest.

Richard Bain [local]—Last August, Conan O'Brien played a video short by Richard Bain. "I like his style," O'Brien said. It's just the beginning. Bain has what it takes to go pro, both on stage and on screen. He's self-depreciating, witty, weird, and has the timing to make people laugh even when there's no joke.

Maria Bamford—Maria Bamford is like the Mercury's Blogtown personified. She plays a disturbed pug lady who probably reads Cat Fancy magazine. A member of the Comedians of Comedy crew, Bamford is at the top of the game and she's comfortable getting weird.

Lonnie Bruhn [local]—Without question, Lonnie Bruhn is Portland's top purveyor of filth. But Bruhn is more than a dirty comic—his openness about his difficulties with cerebral palsy is cathartic and enlightening.

Don Frost [local]—This man is a maniac. Unlike the majority of Bridgetown performers, Don Frost doesn't write sets. Instead, Frost bursts forth with blistering stream-of-consciousness rants about whatever's inspiring him at the moment. They're amazing every time.

Brent Weinbach—Brent Weinbach is fucking weird, which partially explains why he won the prestigious Andy Kaufman Award. Weinbach is fluent in oddities, traditional stories, one-liners, physical comedy, and so much more.

Kyle Kinane—Kyle Kinane is the acerbic, working man's comic. He's drunk, fed up, and nothing ever seems to go right—well, in his stories at least. With his twisted imagination, Kinane is money on stage.

Brian McCann—From the beginning, until Conan O'Brien got booted off the air, Brian McCann was the go-to sketch guy, playing characters like Preparation H Raymond, S&M Abe Lincoln, and Pimpbot 5000.

Morgan Murphy—Morgan Murphy is quite tall, and she brings the awkward, uncomfortable, "fear of touching on an awkward Facebook-arranged blind date" vibe. Surrender yourself and go there—she's fucking hilarious.

Christian Ricketts [local]—Christian Ricketts is one of our more experimental local comics. He is Kaufman-esque in the twisting of form. One of his creations is a senile old character who stars in an entire set.

Phil Schallberger [local]—Phil Schallberger is a quiet, awkward, lanky kid. But my God, on stage the kid is a natural. He dazzles with Andy Kaufman weirdness, while still killing with more traditional styles.

Asssscat—There's no better troupe to acquaint you with the picture-painting hilarity of group improv than Asssscat, a veteran all-star team from the Upright Citizens Brigade.

Conan O'Brien Writers Panel—A booking coup, the Conan Writers Panel offers a chance to see something you can't get anywhere else, perhaps even some tidbits Conan himself is legally prohibited from sharing.

Birdemic—People are comparing this new schlocky, hilariously horrible film to Tommy Wiseau's The Room.

Bridgetown by Day

Here, we made it easy for you.

THURS, APRIL 22

7 pm: I Am Comic screening & discussion,

Bagdad Theater, $10

9:30 pm: Portland vs. Seattle,

Mt. Tabor Theater, $15

10 pm: Bridgetown preview, Bagdad Theater, $25

FRI, APRIL 23

7:30 pm: Asssscat, Hawthorne Theatre, $25

8 pm: Conan Writers Panel, Bagdad Theater, $25

8 pm: Maria Bamford, Brendon Walsh, Brent Weinbach, Ron Funches & more, Mt. Tabor Theater, $25

midnight: Birdemic, Bagdad Theater, $10

SAT, APRIL 24

8 pm: Theme Park: long-form improv with Oscar Nunez, Scott Adsit, Janet Varney, Danny Pudi, Hawthorne Theater, $25

9:30 pm: Writers Standup: Lizz Winstead, Morgan Murphy, Jordan Rubin, Brian McCann, Mt. Tabor Theater, $20

midnight: Todd Glass, Kyle Kinane, Christian Finnegan, Ron Funches & more, Hawthorne Theatre, $15

SUN, APRIL 25

8 pm: Bridgetown Closing Night Blowout: Greg Behrendt, Nick Thune, Baron Vaughn, Tig Notaro & more, Bagdad Theater, $25

9:30 pm: Northwest Comedy Showcase,

Mt. Tabor Theater, $10

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