The Stumptown Improv Festival is back, with its Oregon quince jokes, back-to-back shows, and the three highest-energy hosts you'll see probably anywhere—Jed Arkley, Leon Anderson, and Erin Jean O'Regan (who has the shiniest shoes). Every year, it feels more and more like A Big Art Thing to Get Excited About. But this year especially, drawing a huge audience even after moving from the Milagro Theater to the bigger Artists Repertory Theatre, the festival seems like a useful metric for the vitality of Portland's improv community. Last night's show even included a surprise appearance from Mike Birbiglia, who handed out tickets to his new movie, Don't Think Twice, to audience members willing to admit to having no weekend plans.
After these bizarre opening pleasantries, Bang+Burn's John Breen and Beau Brousseau performed their signature improvised action movie, which was a high point of last year's festival and delivered again, complete with slow-motion fights and send-ups of action movie tropes like retina scans and ladies on airplanes clad in dresses "you'd never wear to fly in." LA's Summerland was another strong duo—Ellie Race-Moore and Ryan Kelly Coil did a lot with a little, embodying evil 10-year-old girls through jaunty facial expressions alone. New York's North Coast, who have a hip-hop improv format, always put on a solid show, and the first of their two performances at this year's festival was remarkably weird and well done.
You're probably noticing a pattern. There were a lot of repeat performers in last night's lineup, but it also featured one of the festival's new, higher-concept additions. Kory Mathewson and Julian Faid of Canada's TEDx RFT closed out Thursday's shows with their send-up of TED talks, in which each improvises a talk over slides the other has prepared. As I watched Mathewson and Faid spitball weird, empty platitudes ("Zuckerberg's law: When all your friends are doing it, you will also want to," "With a bar as low as zero targets, can we truly fail?") it occurred to me how ripe for parody TED talks are. Sure, there are standouts like Amy Cuddy's power pose gospel and Brene Brown's talk on vulnerability, which is much shared for a reason. But for every Cuddy or Brown, there's a high volume of others that already sound sort of like jokey PR and/or sentient Google searches (e.g., "The dream we haven't dared to dream," "How Airbnb designs for trust," "Why sneakers are a great investment," and "What really happens when you mix medications?"). It's satisfying to see the format rightfully skewered.
Suzette Smith will be covering tonight's shows, featuring Death and Taxes, Broke Gravy, the Sunday Service, Tunnel, Magnet Theater, and Juliet and Juliet.
More photos from Thursday's shows after the jump.