One dark and particularly politically disheartening night—one of those Trump administration nights—a friend suggested I peel myself off the floor and join her in watching some hilarious stand-up comedy. “Oh sure,” I said. “Like I want to listen to more men yelling at me,” which isn’t normally how I feel about stand-up. It’s just how I felt in that moment.
“It’s not like that,” my friend said. “It’s Lez Stand Up.” And she was right. It was completely different.
Sometimes you just want to go to a place where no straight men will complain about women. And Portland has a number of options for queer people who want to feel heard and straight people who are sick of that stale white-guy comedy shit. There’s a haven in queer comedy, and although there really shouldn’t be any difference between straight and queer comedians, the reality is—though there are exceptions—queer people are a lot funnier.
Lez Stand Up, the queer feminist comedy collective started by the delightfully high-strung Kirsten Kuppenbender, features quality regular members like 2017 Portland’s Funniest Person Caitlin Weirhauser and Portland’s Funniest Femme Witch (this is a title I just made up) Laura Anne Whitley. The collective produces shows frequently, popping up at different comedy spots around town (Curious Comedy, Helium, the Siren, etc.), so keep an eye peeled for them on the Mercury’s comedy events calendar—another great way to familiarize yourself with Portland’s various comedy clubs. Lez Stand Up first introduced me to the mercurial comedy stylings of Bob Wolf, Carlos the Rollerblader, and local queer ally jokesters Barbara Holm and Corina Lucas. Smaller shows like Lez Stand Up are good if you like to watch comedy often; stand-ups are working on new material and you’ll get to hear some dangerous, untested quips. Some of it might not be festival-ready, but those rough laughs are often my faves.
Festivals are where you’ll always hear a comedian’s best material, and it just so happens that Portland is home to the first multi-day, multi-stage queer comedy festival in the whole flippin’ country, the Portland Queer Comedy Festival. With stages at the Funhouse Lounge, Crush, Ford Food & Drink, and Curious Comedy Theater, the Portland Queer Comedy Festival is a pretty big deal—and the second year of the fest is not too far off (July 19-22). Founded by Funhouse owner Andy Barrett and longtime Portland comedian and queer activist Belinda Carroll, the fest began as a direct response to the 2016 election and what Barett and Carroll saw as an increase in worrying political and social situations for queer people.
“Laughing is such a visceral expression,” Carroll says. “The ability to really relax in a space and enjoy comedy—without worrying about what some douchey straight comic is going to say next—is really valuable to us.”
The Portland Queer Comedy Festival is an opportunity to circle the LGBTQ+ wagons, but also to provide entry and perspective to people who want to learn about or be more involved with Portland’s queer community.
“I think there are a bunch of people out there who don’t necessarily have friends that are queer,” Barrett says. “They don’t know how to approach it, even if their sympathies are with us. Here people can come bond over laughter and maybe learn a few things about our experience, through our jokes.”
Although not expressly queer, another great place to catch comedians is the All Jane Comedy Festival, which happens at Curious Comedy in October. Like the Portland Queer Comedy Fest, All Jane is a great way to familiarize yourself with talent from the area and out of state. All Jane was the first place I saw Irene Tu and Whitney Streed, who will both be gracing this year’s Portland Queer Comedy Festival stages.
So let me tell you about one of the great ways to spend an evening: It’s sitting in the velvety darkness of Helium Comedy Club, eating chicken fingers, and watching a comedy show. When the show is on, silence is encouraged (aside from the laughing, of course) so there’s no stressful small talk with the waiter. A whiskey soda appears, silent as a ghost. And up on stage Caitlin Weierhauser is telling a wonderful yarn about her childhood with her hardy, forest-loving family: running around with a pack of large dogs that cheerfully ate bees for her, so she wouldn’t be stung. It’s storytelling and well-timed punchlines and it’s all comfortably queer somehow, if for no other reason than allowing people living outside society’s conventions to finally be themselves.