Bridgetown is a comedy festival that actually reflects the lifestyle of the city it takes place in: Portland, Oregon. For the past nine years the festival has grown in stature and size, much like the city. The festival has earned a rep for being a four day, all day-all night summer camp for comedians, from up and comers like Phil Schalberger of Portland and Gilbert Lawand of New York, to established festival headliners like Eddie Pepitone, and that makes it one of the best festivals a comedian could ever play. Here’s what Bridgetown’s like for the comedians who perform at it.
I arrive a few days before the festival and have to do a few local media and news interviews to promote the festival. After waking up at 6:00 in the morning to guest co-host a radio show (which, it turns out, is extremely fucking early) the party begins as comedians arrive to check into their rooms and show up at a meet and greet for the festival on Wednesday evening. This is one of the best parts of the fest, simply for the excitement everybody has for the coming weekend.
My first show is at 9:00 PM, but I have the time to go take in a few shows and see some of my buddies perform. After two or three Micheladas at the party I decide I will walk over to the Doug Fir and see my friend and Portland hero comedian Matt Braunger perform on the festival kickoff show. The room is packed with comedy geeks, podcast listeners and Portland hipsters. The show is being hosted by a local comic Gabe Dinger. This is an important part of the festival’s philosophy, rounding out the shows with comedians who are hilarious talents, but are unknown. Somebody who shows up because they are a fan of Matt Braunger’s will hopefully become a fan of Gabe Dinger’s. I watch the show for a bit then start to make my way to my show. Almost all of the venues for the festival are within a stone’s throw of one another which very much helps add to the communal spirit of Bridgetown.
I arrive at Siren Theater for my set and find out that I am closing the show. The crowd is light about 5 minutes before the show, but slowly people trickle into the room and it fills in nicely. The room isn’t full but the crowd is the definition of small but mighty, which helps soften the blow to my forever bruising ego. I watch most of the show and enjoy seeing my friends’ new material and enjoying new comics I had yet to see. After my set I bolt over to another venue called Trio for the first after party of the festival. Comics are filling themselves with booze and trying to outperform one another at karaoke on Prince songs. As the bar closes I decide that I should not go to bed and postgame at my buddie’s apartment at four in the morning.
On day two I wake up on the floor of my friend’s apartment instead of in a bed at my other friend’s house where I had planned on staying. I check my phone and realize that I promised at least five people at the after party the night before that we would all get brunch. So I wash the sleep out of my eyes, put on my clothes that smell like whiskey and smokes and call an Uber that I tell myself I can afford. I arrive at the restaurant to meet some friends from NY who have never done the festival before. We have our meal and I tell them what local spots to check out while they are in town, like book stores and coffee shops and other places. We part ways and I decide to finally go back to my clothes and wash off all the bad decisions from the night before. After I scrub up I check the festival website to see where I am performing that evening and stop at the performers lounge along the way. I drink a beer and see some more comedians checking in for the festival that I had not seen in a bit so I have a have a few more beers. After catching up with some folks I walk down to the Bossanova, a huge venue that will house some of the biggest shows at the festival this year. I’m playing the tent outside the Bossanova that the festival has set up for some of the more intimate performances that will take place. The night is a cool one and people are filling the tent and as the show moves along I see Abby Rosenquist of Austin perform. She turns out clever joke after clever joke and charms the crowd into new fans in an eight minute set. The joke of the show clearly belongs to Julian McCullough, the veteran stand-up perfectly crafted the line “Portland, you must hate this festival—it’s like your town was descended upon by 50 white people that actually followed their dream.” The crowd takes a delighted offense that only Portland can pull off.
I leave the show and bum around the venues for a few hours as my performance obligations are met for the night.
Around midnight I head to the after party at a warehouse where the comics will dance in a alcoholic and drug filled haze for the next four hours. Throughout the night I work my way through most of a bottle of bourbon and hug old friends while providing insights that no one has asked for. The party ends as the sun begins to come up and I decide I will just make it to the closest available friend’s sofa and not stay where I had planned for the second night in a row. I tell myself that tomorrow I will take it easy, but that does not turn out to be the case either…
Tomorrow: Day Three
Shane Torres is a stand-up comedian and writer who has performed on Conan and acted on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang!. He’s written for Laughspin, The Portland Mercury and Nailed Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and watch him perform stand-up at the Paste Studio.