Comedy Festival

Day 4: Bridgetown Rewards Program

If you’re reading this, you’re either reaching for the last possible thread of Bridgetown or you’re watching life pass you by and need a distraction; perhaps things are more grey than that. I’ll offer an alternative then: Rewards. So anyway, let’s get back to it. First I’ll explain some things quick. Why haven’t I focused on local comics? I may blame Marcia Belsky for reminding me not to use my pass to see local showcases because I’ll be seeing these guys over and again for the upcoming months. I had intended to see her and said, “you’ll see me later!” Okay, and I want to tell you the positive things about this festival then the negative things at the end. Up top, it was a rewarding convention of comedy whereupon I saw compelling new comics, iconic veterans, and the non-stand-up programming kept it interesting. The whole thing is inspiring for any new comedian, such as myself, who continues struggling to find their audience, jokes, voice and persona. Festivals are like school in that way. A positive impact on the community and local economy, Bridgetown is. Wonderful, that’s out of the way so here are the reviews.

It began with Risk!, the storytelling showcase at Bagdad. Two stories really make it to the top of my mind. Sean Patton has the best first-time-getting-paid-for-comedy story I have ever heard and probably will ever hear. I know mine is quite a bit less fruitful. His story involves a crack addict showing nude videos of herself on VHS, serving his fantasy drink, being heckled by the hack moron headliner, and being blocked inside a gated community; and it’s a happy ending. Aparna Nancheria came open hearted with her struggle with an eating disorder in college. It explained a lot to me about her stage persona, because she always seemed awkward, doing the kid bit, that chalkboard voice, but this time she spoke naturally and was funnier without pushing people away. She is very likeable and grows on you. Read on, because she also delivered a crowd-winning erotic short story at the end of the night. That’s a good comic, starting strong and ending strong.

Two television show panels followed, starting with Eagleheart: Town Hall Forum, a panel discussion about the live action show that almost nobody watches and stars Chris Elliot, who almost nobody remembers (and by the way, he couldn’t make it). Don’t confuse my deadpan for negativity; I’m just reporting the facts inaccurately. Now for conjecture, I don’t think this panel would exist were Adult Swim not a sponsor. I’ve never seen the show, but the panel is entertaining because everybody there is funny, plus they showed an episode and it was some absurd good times. I’d watch it again. Then it was the Delocated Panel, and guess what. It was a star-headed lineup with Janeane Garofalo, Todd Barry, and Jon Glaser making the scene, moderated by Brett Gelman (supporting star in Eagleheart) who reminds me of myself: dark inside, facial hair outside. It gave clarity about the whole Delocated showcase last night; I had never heard of the show before. This is Adult Swim too, surprised? Television is not in my life enough to be a blogger? They have kind of a dysfunctional family thing. Janeane explained how she compelled her manager to get in the cast, because she was a big fan. Nobody commented on that. Todd Barry had little to say. Glaser kind of behaved like the big shot, like the boss, because he is the boss on that show and has payed his dues by taking beatings from Conan. Amy Schumar and Yung-I Chang traded some cryptic hostility but no eye contact; she seems like a self-conscious one. I liked her running gag about breaking up with her boyfriend because of the show; you had to be there. I wanted to get out of there because there was something unusual happening at Helium.

Talk Show The Game is a fun interview game hosted by Guy Branum, featuring Eagleheart supporting starlet, Maria Thayer. I’ll admit it, I’m more switched on than Bach, but she is so lovely and charming that I’m dead now. She was winning the game but then clearly threw the match so that Baron Vaughn could feel better about himself, and that is just sweet. I’m not sure where Alex Koll was getting his points from, but I realize that audiences now really love that apathetic half-conscious but still kind of smart shtick, however I’m bored by the bored; they aren’t funny to me (except Bill Murray). Let me explain how this works, if you haven’t seen it. Guy hosts and moderates the game; three guests sit and attempt to complete an anecdote within several minutes. Every few moments, a set of judges interject, “Two points: humble bragging,” or “Five points: name drop,” etc. and the point system is actually on the fly, so it’s a big joke. Then there’s a lightning round and questions must be answered quickly while contestants buzz in. This is where Baron’s insecurity won the game. Maria cupped the buzzer in hand rather than sandwich it and she waited for others to answer. Baron’s need to be quickest and funniest got the best of Alex’s dry and bored persona. Guy is hilarious the way he demands order in a system that thrives on chaos when his own ego adds to the chaos. It was a thoroughly entertaining show.

Then it was time for the Bagdad Closing Show. I got to see Todd Barry for the fourth time in one month. That’s thrice at Bridgetown (including the panel) and once at SXSW. He means a lot to me when so many new comics get out there screaming their dick jokes and making light of racism while I’m trying to be soft-spoken and subtle in my delivery. He’s my model. He’s old too. It’s nice to see him gain a new level of recognition. He kind of has this pompous act going on, patting himself on the back as someone who “always kills” or “annihilates all the time”, and it’s funny because he’s so non-threatening. It’s in that softness that he relaxes the audience in to the joke before surprising them. Richard Bain is the top reason I picked this show, having already seen the headliners in it. Bain keeps jokes in his repertoire for years while the glitchy man-baby behavior mixes up the order and causes spontaneous choices. He moved to L.A. almost a year ago. He was at every open mic and supported every comic (but Marcus Gibson) in his or her journey to not sucking. He’s funny and I believe it’s just a matter of time before he gets his break. Doug Benson jumped in for a guest set to everyone’s delight. He has the most important trait of the comedian, he thinks funny, definitely, but he’s a walking intoxicant; his set is a contact high. His lids weren’t sealed shut from booze alone, he actually put down the signature vodka drink for the whole set, so what was in the pipe? He’s funny, that’s why he can stop leaning on the bottle during stage time. Not that it’s easy; his humor comes from it — only that’s an illusion we create for ourselves. I skipped out before seeing Janeane again. That’s fine. Were there other good comics? Yes.

I walked between Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction at Eagles Lodge and Hahajk Stand Up Showcase at Mt. Tabor Theater. It was tough to keep the pace and as soon as I walked in to the erotic show, I was bombarded with cum, exploits about cum, the things that make and take cum, it was just too much. So here is where Aparna Nancheria surprised me again. First I’ll explain the format, although I’m a little hazy on it, it’s basically a writing challenge where comics take a theme and write a short erotic story, building the premise from said theme. While some comics just crammed as much body fluid and genital variations they could in to a short story, Aparna cooled it on the dirty language and did something unique; it was a children’s language training book and she masked the words in Spanish translation. Right out the gate, she had the audience busting and I could see she was as surprised as I was about the reaction. Her story was consistent in the bit; it was funny for its inherent qualities and for hiding the dirty words, not exploiting them. She killed. Ian Karmel mimed the tearing out of his own pages and others demonstrated the same fallout of confidence. It’s rounding midnight and I can hardly go on. I watch through Ian’s set; he follows Baron Vaughn who follows Aparna. Both of them had good moments, but my story doesn’t elucidate them — or is that my memory? So I made the showcase across the street but again, just kind of fuzzing out like a movie you fell asleep to. I just wanted to see Dwight Slade, but didn’t.

I simply lost interest and when I saw the Portland comics I used to stand street corners with, smoking cigarettes, waiting for our time, probably off to continue the celebration somewhere, I just walked on by, confused about where I had parked my car, resigned in to the end of a phase of my life. I’m back in Portland, many relationships to continue, many to end. I haven’t been away from the city this long since I moved here eight years ago, four and a half months, and it wasn’t the greatest departure, it was stressful. I’m grateful for Bridgetown for giving me reason to come back and for mixing the energy up and getting us excited. I’m regretful that I was not more forthright about my interest in getting Facetime interviews, networking, and visiting old friends. I am bummed about that, but there is probably good reason I made the choices I made. Time to make new ones and ease in to it.

Now for the negative things, so let’s be honest. This is basically an LA festival with Portland shades, San Francisco relatives, and the kindred alter ego, Austin, TX. New York and Chicago finds its way in to every party, so forget about that influence, it’s moot. Organization is definitely on the light side and the details were frequently overlooked. You don’t know how many comics I saw fumbling around with microphone boom stands that belong over conga drums, not comics. The programming is kind of just all-at-once and there isn’t much imagination in the pacing; by Sunday, attendance dipped from full to a quarter of that; large venues more than half empty. The headliners are great but there is so much more potential that isn’t being exploited. I’m not sure what I’m going to do for my audio review, but I’d love to get Andy Wood on the phone with some local comics and we’ll straighten this whole thing out.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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