When I moved to Portland to do comedy, the main question I got was: Portland has comedy? And now, as someone who’s only been in Portland for three years, I also somehow manage to be a part of the senior class. It is a scene in constant flux. Benefiting from a more recently popular tactic in stand-up comedy wherein fledgling comedians move to a middle market city for the ample stage time and low rent, and avoid the previously popular method of going straight to New York or Los Angeles two years into comedy and falling into in a deep deep hole of debt, depression and regret six months in, Portland has become a booming comedy town with an equal mix of homegrown performers and motivated transplants on a calculated career pit stop.
With the addition of the industry-beloved Bridgetown Comedy Festival as well as a Helium Comedy Club branch, plus the recent fame of a few hometown boys like Ian Karmel and Ron Funches, in a few short years Portland has found a permanent place on the national stand-up comedy map. That’s not to say the scene just happened. Comics like Dwight Slade, Auggie Smith and Susan Rice were a part of an early Portland comedy boom that often gets forgotten, but grew many of the roots on which the current scene was able to flourish. As a newcomer, I pledge in this guide to do proper justice to Portland’s great scene, as a thank you for what it’s done for me.
If you know nothing about Portland comedy, here are a few facts you need in your back pocket.
Comics We Claim: Ron Funches, Dwight Slade, Ian Karmel, Matt Braunger, Shane Torres
PDX Comics You Might Not Know Yet But Might Soon: Nathan Brannon, Bri Pruett, Adam Pasi, Curtis Cook, Sean Jordan, Caitlin Weierhauser, Phil Schallberger, Virginia Jones, Gabe Dinger, Nariko Ott, Alex Falcone, Zak Toscani, Steven Wilber, Veronica Heath, Amy Miller (What? WELL!)
Other Notable Comedy Locals:
Lance Bangs: Director, documentarian. Aside from being one of the most brilliant music video directors of all time, he’s directed a bunch of comedy specials, including Marc Maron and Todd Barry’s latest, and is currently wrapping shooting of the new live stand-up series Flop House for Vice’s upcoming channel Viceland.
Hutch Harris: Frontman for The Thermals and a longtime comedy fan and avid supporter of the scene, Hutch recently ventured onto the comedy stage himself and is now a comic and co-producer of the show Comedy in Space at The Mission Theater.
Kill Rock Stars—Portia Sabin, James Reling, Benjamin Parrish: If you care about music, I don’t have to tell you about Kill Rock Stars. Portia, Ben and James, some of the team behind the iconic Portland-based label, started paying close attention to comedy a while back and the label is now signing many of the hottest comedians happening right now, including Portland locals Ian Karmel and Nathan Brannon, and Seattle favorite Hari Kondabolu. They’re real nice to us, and it’s a weird and cool thing to have Kill Rock Stars be nice to you.
Tonya Harding: She has nothing to do with comedy but I wanted to include her.
Festivals: Bridgetown and All Jane Comedy Festivals (Sadly, Portland’s major music festivals seem to be the last in the fucking country to add a comedy lineup, but hopefully that will change this year.)
Associated TV Shows: This one’s obvious.
The Comedy Club Situation: If you were to find yourself in a Radio Cab being driven by an Oregon native over the age of 50 (his name is Harold in my mind), and you said “please take me to the comedy club,” you would likely find yourself downtown at Harvey’s. Largely considered the “old school” room, Harvey’s remains a Portland comedy institution, though it’s more accurately a fun, banquet-style bar and restaurant where there happens to be comedy in the corner. Helium’s opening in 2010 brought the top tier headliners into town and became a breeding ground for new Portland talent to grow. Anecdotally at least, Helium hasn’t quite cracked that commonplace awareness of the casual suburban comedy-goer like Harvey’s has, but it’s the go-to club for die hard comedy fans seeking out a specific headliner.
The Crowds: Portland audiences are fiercely loyal—to their town, and to the comics they love. They’re loyal in a way that makes you feel really fucking unworthy as a comic, while also forcing comics to turn material over much more quickly than we might in a larger scene, so as not to bore our most dedicated followers. Portland crowds have a reputation for being uptight, overly liberal, and “safe-spacey” (by people who think feeling safe is bad), but I just saw Aries Spears last weekend do ten minutes on how Caitlyn Jenner is disgusting and not a real woman and he got multiple applause breaks, so I dunno. I think Portland as a town is about as varied as any other small city. Some crowds might as well have been shipped in from a red state, and some crowds are more progressive. It’s not a culture you understand until you live here, as the widely adopted Portlandia version of this city is extremely limiting and mostly for wealthy white people.
It’s a very artistically forgiving and supportive town, whether you do comedy or interpretive dance, or play flaming bagpipes on a unicycle while dressed as Darth Vader. Comics that complain about bombing in Portland are just shitty at stand-up. If you can’t find a room where you can do well in Portland, you’re bad at comedy. As a fan, it’s similarly easy to find a comic you’ll like, no matter what kinda freaky shit you’re into.
The Spaces: Portland is a scene of non-standard venues. We’re quirky here! And it rains a lot, so if we’re under some kind of shelter where there’s beer inside, we’re happy. I also think that spending so many years with a dearth of performance spaces forced the comedy locals to get creative. Portland has a bike shop comedy show, an arcade comedy show, brunch shows, a midnight show, shows in pot clubs, clown bars, vodka distilleries, sex clubs, a recording studio and a corner grocery store. If you have a fanbase, they’ll rollerblade to a gas station comedy show to see you. They don’t give a fuck. As long as there is beer.
The HBICs: The Portland comedy scene, for whatever reason, is largely run by women. I don’t know if the legal weed and lack of sunshine have rendered most of our dudes too sleepy and high to start their own shows, but women like Whitney Streed, Bri Pruett, Barbara Holm, Joann Schinderle, Caitlin Weierhauser, Jenna Zine, Katie Brien, Jen Tam, Andie Main, Stacey Hallal, Belinda Carroll, and myself have for the past few years run the bulk of the best showcases. Perhaps it’s our supportive scene matriarchs like Kristine Levine (the only local comic to have a recurring role on Portlandia) and Susan Rice (Portland’s Funniest 2015 in an industry poll) that have helped motivate us. Even our comedy club has a female General Manager (Shana Delwiche), which is very rare. Stacey Hallal owns and operates both a venue and the All Jane Festival, and the Bridgetown Festival has a mostly-female team (aside from founder and comic Andy Wood). Like a lot of small comedy scenes, there are a LOT of comics who perform, and a very small handful of people who work on things and run shit. In our case, many of these shit-runners are chicks. It’s pretty dope. And yes, please, you sweet young brave misunderstood rabble-rousers. Please come to this town and tell us your daring, well-crafted rape jokes. And then see if you’re asked back, sweet face.
The following comedy guide is not a list of every show in Portland because there are too many. And as any other artform goes, some are great, some are crap, some I don’t even know about yet. As Portland’s become a transitional comedy city, all of our shows are fairly young because so many of the talented busy people tend to move away.
Too many comedy shows is a GREAT thing, if you’re a comic. If you’re a fan, it can be overwhelming. Think of this as a list of quality recommendations, a Zagat for your laughter. Like, if you had one month left to live and you wanted to spend it seeing stand-up comedy in Portland (why would you do this?!), these are the shows you should see before you die.
There are going to be some common themes below, and this list is completely, 100%, unabashedly biased. All of the shows I picked are booked carefully, with both quality AND variety in mind, they’re run by great people, they’re hosted well, the comics get paid, and most importantly, I have been to them, which seemed necessary to include them in a guide about something?
So if the chemo doesn’t take, you need a laugh, and you can’t leave town, I give you my personal guarantee any of the below shows will temporarily take your mind off of your impending slow death.
Birthed in the intimate 40-seat clubhouse theater beneath a bike shop, EQH now lives on the main floor of the same bike shop, due to the Portland Fire Marshall’s extreme aversion to fun and goodness. Every Wednesday, you can see comics from Portland and beyond at Velo Cult on the NE side of town. Bicycles hang above the stage, and occasionally an employee will be working on a bike during your set (this is frowned upon, I believe/ hope). A variety of local beers are on tap, but order a glass of wine like I do if you want to see the person behind the bar get cranky.
If the new venue seems impractical, it’s because it is. The magic of EQH is in the hosts. It’s a show that could live virtually anywhere. Portland as a scene has a wide variety of comedy shows to offer, in cool venues with solid lineups, and too many with well-meaning but ill-fitting hosts. Hosting comedy shows isn’t for everyone, to be sure, and unfortunately there’s only one way to practice. Alex Falcone (also one of Portland’s funniest and runner of multiple shows), Bri Pruett, Anthony Lopez, and Curtis Cook masterfully co-host Earthquake Hurricane and have banked much of the show’s success on their own chemistry and likability, as they should. Any potential dud on the lineup has the benefit of a stockpile of great comics to bring the room back.
I have a feeling EQH may soon need a new home, and certainly a new lineup of hosts, as all of the current producers should have been in LA like, last year already. But for now, you can see the gang every Wednesday for a $5 suggested donation at Velo Cult. Follow them at @EQHComedy for updates.
No Pun Intendo
Simultaneously one of the best and the absolute WORST comedy shows in Portland, No Pun Intendo happens in the corner bar area of Ground Kontrol, a bar arcade downtown, and one of Portland’s most wonderful places. You might be asking yourself, how do they turn off all those videogame machines to create an appropriate setting for a stand-up comedy show? THE ANSWER IS THEY FUCKING DON’T. No Pun Intendo has given comedians panic attacks of varying gravity, but it’s the show to see if you really want to see us TRY. There IS an audience. Sure, sometimes it’s only 9 or 10 people gathered in the corner, but those people are all in. They’ve dosed up their Adderall for the night and are for a brief period hyper-focused on comedy, not games. It’s a great challenge for comedians—an exercise in hard consonants, volume control gimmicks, and the confidence to believe those seven people are really really with us, which is somehow psychologically so much harder on the ego than staring into a room of 200 total wildcards. It’s where you can see a comic give everything she has.
The shows are carefully curated, with a lot of care put into booking lineups that represent a range of comedic styles, backgrounds, hometowns, genders, and ethnicities, which seems like an obvious thing to do but plenty of comedy show producers really don’t give a fuck. Other rareties: each month’s show has a custom collectible poster, and comics get paid in real American dollars. Hosted by the extremely charismatic and newly-appointed Nariko Ott, No Pun happens the 3rd Thursday of each month around 9-ish, and it’s only 3 bucks (that’s where we get the dollars). Ground Kontrol also has great nachos, and you can usually visit the classic Tetris machine to see my initials in all the high score spots (pointless brag).
Their Facebook page here is probably the best spot for current dates and lineups.
Control Yourself at Alberta St. Pub
Joann Schinderle is a soldier of the comedy scene in Portland. A mere 2 years into standup, our loudmouthed midwestern buttercup showed up in town and started running shit. Two Sundays a month at Alberta Street Pub, Joann dutifully hosts a free showcase of Portland’s best comics, often sticking around to also host a million-years long open mic directly after the show. The pub is in the very trendy (see: gentrified) Alberta Arts District and the bar is classy enough to feel like home but not so cool that you hate everyone there. Regular dudes, beer snobs, uggos, hotties, and social weirdos are all welcome at ASP.
Separated from the main bar, the stage sits in a darkened room through a heavy wooden door and a thick black curtain, adding just enough of that Eyes Wide Shut feeling you need when walking into a comedy show. If someone you hate starts telling jokes, it’s easy enough to escape to ASP’s large back patio or a cozy booth in the front bar where you can enjoy one of Portland’s best burgers, or a moscow mule made by Steven, arguably one of Portland’s best bartenders. And not only is the show free, but the comics get paid for their time.
After Joann’s long slog building Control Yourself into a popular show, and turning Alberta St into a reliable comedy venue, other producers in town began to take note, including local festival All Jane, and indie label Kill Rock Stars who will host their first album recording in the venue for Portland comedian Nathan Brannon. Again, a charismatic host and a carefully curated lineup makes all the difference here. And the weekly open mic following the show has helped to grow the Portland comedy community, giving new kids a chance to watch some of the senior class for free, right before trying out their own stuff. Control Yourself happens 2 Sundays a month at Alberta St. Pub.
In case you’ve never visited Portland, or you have but don’t have working eyeballs in your face, it’s a very white town. The latest census puts the population at about 76% white-identifying, so let’s assume 78% to account for those 2% of awful Portland white people who were like “I don’t see race” and/or only checked Native American because their grandma said her grandma may have been a little bit Choctaw or something. The demographics of the comedy scene pretty closely match up to the census, if not even skewing a bit whiter. And unfortunately like almost every city’s comedy scene, it can be somewhat segregated. Even being asked to write this guide, I was like shit, I’m probably gonna unknowingly exclude a bunch of people outside of my immediate social circle like a real white asshole. Though a few showcases in town (see above) do our best to book a diverse lineup under these circumstances, producer Jason Lamb and comedian Jeremy Eli were like, cool but nah but how about we just make our own show. One of the more cleverly-named shows in town, Minority Retort is a monthly showcase and welcoming space for comedians of color from Portland, the Bay Area, and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. As a non-white comedy fan in Oregon, outside of seeing a specific headliner at one of the clubs, it had been nearly impossible to see a lineup of non-white comedians. And if you’re dumb enough to think this isn’t a necessity for black and brown folks living in a mostly white town, go check out the downright gleeful faces on the Minority Retort audience every month. The crowds reflect the mission of the show and even during some of the greener comics’ performances, the vibe stays supportive. Everybody that shows up just seems so happy the show exists, especially the comics. One sweet night of respite from white bullshit in the whitest major city in America…ahhhh that must feel good. The show provides a night for people of color to be heard loud and clear in a town that often prevents just that. Currently, Minority Retort lives at Curious Comedy Theater monthly and it’s only 7 bucks in advance. Follow their Twitter @IMinorityRetort for the latest.
This is arguably the best comedy showcase in Portland, and I’m not just saying that because it’s my show. Yes I am. But this is not the New York Times so if you were looking for an unbiased guide, you can kiss my grits. I would be totally remiss in leaving Midnight Ma$$ off of this list, whether it was my show or not. Midnight Ma$$ is a monthly shit show in a Southeast Portland clown-themed bar (there is one room dedicated to creepy clown paintings) where faithful night owls show up month after month, many of them hoping for a celebrity drop-in but supporting the non-famous comics in the meantime. It’s the only show in town that has boasted the likes of Dave Attell, Norm Macdonald, Laurie Kilmartin, Kurt Braunohler and Rory Scovel. We don’t have a special celebrity every month but it’s become a show that comics travel long distances to perform on, which is very sweet but ridiculous because it’s at midnight!
The show has a cheeky religious theme and some mildly religious elements including giant stained glass crosses on stage, and a peace-be-with-you style ritual at the top of the show, wherein drunken comedy fans meet each other and practice social skills. Occasionally I, as the host, will take anonymous confessions from the audience which have ranged from the totally innocuous (stealing supplies from work) to the completely horrifying (date rape). Rounding out the multi-denominational church vibe is our in-house grumpy old Jew, and Portland’s favorite pianist, Ira Novos. Born out of the same Chicago comedy era that produced Emo Philips and Judy Tenuta, Ira is a staple of the Portland comedy scene and would absolutely hate that I am mentioning him. Luckily, our charming and constant state of conflict has become a central element of the show.
Midnight Ma$$ happens monthly at the Funhouse Lounge until I move away, and it’s free! (Donations encouraged). Follow @midnightmasspdx for show dates and lineups.
Lez Stand Up
About a year into being on the Portland scene, I started to meet some new women who were funny already, and didn’t understand where they had come from. Were they ghosts? Turns out some of my new favorites in Portland comedy—like Caitlin Weierhauser, Kirsten Kuppenbender, and Laure Anne Whitley—had been hiding away doing comedy in a magical wonderland of their own smash hit queer feminist monthly showcase, Lez Stand Up. Despite these ladies now having emerged onto the mainstream comedy scene in town, the original show goes on. If you’re looking for a show that’s funny, where you also will never be made fun of for who you are, and everyone in the room is drunk on happiness and community, Lez Stand Up is a good one to check out. The shows frequently sell out so I’d urge you to buy tickets in advance.
As someone who is already fully brainwashed by the mostly white male dominated comedy landscape, some part of me is bummed that there are hilarious female comics in town who may not always be interested in doing my shows or breaking into the mainstream comedy scene here, when they can just keep doing their already successful shows for a steadily supportive crowd. Then again, as a lady in comedy I spend a lot of time miserable, bemoaning my own perceived lack of opportunity, so what the fuck do I know? As of late, comics like Lea Delaria, whom most straights weren’t even aware of until we all binge-watched OITNB, have proven that there is a career to be had within the queer stand-up circuit. In fact, Delaria was the first openly gay comic on late night. So again, what the hell do I know. I just selfishly want to see these ladies perform as much as I can. I guess I will join you at Lez Stand Up, which happens once a month and is soon moving to the Kickstand Comedy Space at the newly opened Siren Theater downtown. Follow them at @LezStandUp for news!
Helium Comedy Club Wednesday Shows
In another town, it might make me seem like a real company man to be out here shilling for the comedy club. But in Helium, Portland comics have been given the rare gift of a comedy club that gives a damn about its local talent. Sure, you can go to Helium any weekend if you want to see headliners you know or a guy who won that TV talent competition, but if you want to see what happens when a local show idea puts on its big-girl pants, Wednesday nights at Helium should be your new shit. Wednesdays currently rotate a variety of non-standard show formats that local comics puked out of our Vitamin-D deprived brain parts.
Operations Manager Adam Triplett, a dedicated comedy fan himself, lovingly shepherds local comics and their show ideas out of whatever hellhole they previously lived in, giving them a nice warm bed at the comedy club, even putting some of Helium’s own marketing engine behind each show. Some of the Wednesday show hosts are not yet paid to work at the club, and as comics we see these shows as an investment in our scene, a vote of confidence in our ideas, and a willingness to watch us grow. Adam even makes himself available for advice, helps with re-working show ideas, and can be found doing everything from seating people to booting people who yell at us, to running the soundboard and projection for the local shows—a combined effort far beyond what most comedy club managers would ever offer their local talent. And with the comics who have recently come out of Portland, this investment is starting to look like it could have some decent returns. Here are some of the best of those Wednesday shows.
Funny Humans Vs. The Wheel
Hosted and conceived by Portland comedy’s funniest teddy bears, David Mascorro and Adam Pasi (a Chicago Mexican and an Oregonian Samoan), Funny Humans vs. The Wheel is a very different show each month. Both quite loud, annoyingly lovable, and two of the best comics in Portland, David and Adam host a choose-your-own-adventure style standup showcase. Comics spin a wheel and are faced with challenges interspersed with their regular set, such as Sing Your Set (my personal fave), Hype Man (Adam Pasi stands behind the comic, yelling random supportive shit like a hip hop hype man), and Catchphrase, in which comics have to coin their own comedy catchphrase on the spot and pepper it into their sets. HAAAAM-BURGER! The show is tons of fun.
Dirty dozen is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s 12 comedians telling their dirtiest material and is consistently one of the best attended Wednesday shows at Helium, largely due to the pervy nature of your average Portlander. While the subject matter ranges from rock bottom drug and alcohol stories to amateur porn experiments to asshole-licking, there is always an occasional comic that you watch and are not exactly sure if that person has ever sinned. Sometimes those are the funniest sets. Tho for some of us who have gone on the Dirty Dozen and told some of our most embarrassing stories like maybe hypothetically having period sex with a Baltimore Raven, it’s a shame when comics don’t take full advantage of the format. Either way the show is hilarious and dutifully hosted by the extremely depraved and ginger Jacob Christopher who will always provide enough raunch to make up for any innocents who may have stumbled onto the lineup.
Stand-Up for Yourself! with Amy Miller
OK, listen, did you think that Paste would ask someone to write about Portland comedy who wasn’t running a bunch of shit? Yes, this is also my show and it’s fucking great. Stand-Up For Yourself is a monthly hybrid stand-up / talk show, on which comics do 5 or 7 minutes of material and then sit down for a hard-hitting interview and some horribly cheesy daytime talk show-style games. We’ve had live kittens on the show, I once gave the entire crowd a psychological exam, and pulled a surprise dating game on local comic Zak Toscani, which he hated! My favorite and the only recurring bit on the show is called Getting Posi with Pasi, and it’s just Adam Pasi running around the room yelling as many compliments at the crowd as he can in two minutes. It’s very uplifting! Stand-Up For Yourself is a great show if you like to participate, if you love joy but also vulnerability, and if you ever wanted to know what the fuck is wrong with your favorite local comedians.
True Tall Tales with Don Frost
Don Frost is the wacky uncle of the Portland comedy scene, a dude who seems like he should be a Quaid. He’s one of those guys that can make literally anything funny, and always has a story that sounds made up, but you know it isn’t because you know he’s insane in that really great drinking buddy way. Tall Tales is the only story-telling show currently at Helium and it’s where you can hear the director’s cut versions of our jokes, plus other crazy stories from comedians’ lives of depravity and poor decision-making.
Formerly hosted by town weirdo Steven Wilber, who recently defected to Los Angeles, Test Tube is now in the capable and lanky hands of Phil Schallberger, one of Portland’s best comics and master of PowerPoint and character comedy. Comics bring their most experimental, abstract, and character-driven comedy, much of which has not been tested in front of a crowd previously. Go see it if you need a break from traditional stand-up, or even just to see Phil, who is worth the 5 bucks on his own. Even ten dollars, I’d say! Not 20. Let’s not get crazy. 20 someday though.
Reading the Bible With Dan
Local comedian Dan Weber, a grumpy ass metalhead and former Christian, regularly deals with some of the darkest material in Portland comedy. Pulling no punches talking about his religious upbringing and childhood molestation, Dan has dragged the church right along through his stand-up mud. Also a podcast, Reading the Bible with Dan features several panels of comedians commenting on passages from your mom’s favorite book. Probably the best thing about this show is the people who show up thinking it’s a Christian comedy event, and watching their faces slowly grow pale in horror as they realize what’s happening.
Hosted by a dapper and terrifying Russian man named Anatoli Brant who got his comedy chops in San Francisco, Comedy Bull is a competitive stand-up showcase on which each comic has to improv jokes based on specific challenges. The Helium version is the final showcase of winners from previous Comedy Bulls, so this show brings out only the best of Portland’s on-the-fly joke tellers.
Even though I fucking told you I wasn’t going to cover everything, here are a couple more things you should know some stuff about.
Harvey’s Comedy Club
I briefly mentioned Harvey’s earlier in the club situation, but as I am already in the business of advertising for club owners who pay me, I should probably also talk about Harvey’s in more detail. While a lot of comics complain about the experience of performing at Harvey’s, I find that Portland audiences are for the most part so well-behaved and forgiving that occasionally it’s nice to go downtown and get a real workout. The vibe of Harvey’s is exciting and lively. The crowd can be mouthy, and the room is huge. So huge that when you get a laugh from every corner of the room, it’s the most incredible feeling. Harvey’s has been around for a long time, and most of its patrons have been gifted tickets by the club, and are traveling in packs. It’s a popular Portland spot for bachelor or bachelorette parties, or a 21st birthday party with family—three scenarios that send shivers down the spines of many comedians. Crowd-wise, Harvey’s is not a “hipster” comedy venue; it is a slice of real suburban Portland. Meaning that it also brings out one of the more diverse comedy crowds in Portland, which is great as a performer because I don’t always want to feel like I am in my own personal version of Being John Malkovich when I look at a crowd. If you’re looking to see a show that is well-policed for hecklers and other distractions, this is not your spot. But it’s a fun place to take a chance on a lineup, have a burger named after Rowdy Roddy Piper (RIP), and bring ten friends along.
Kickstand Comedy Space
The aforementioned Earthquake Hurricane was one of the showcases birthed in the original Kickstand Comedy Space, in an intimate theater beneath Velo Cult bike shop. After the fire marshall ruined everything, Kickstand moved some shows to the main room of Velo Cult and has been on the hunt for a new home ever since, recently settling into a former Chinese language classroom above the newly-opened Siren Theater in Portland’s Pearl District. While Kickstand has more of an improv focus than the other clubs, it will also be a home to stand-ups who want a smaller space than Helium in which to incubate their new show ideas. Operated and booked by a team of comics and improvisers, Kickstand is a smaller room that is heavily curated, where you can spend a teeny bit of money and take a chance that almost anything you see will be funny and run by rad people.
Al’s Den is a weekend-only comedy “club” that lives underneath the Crystal Hotel on the border of Northwest and Downtown. Local comedian Danny Felts, who is himself getting close to absconding to New York, typically hosts the shows, which always have a built-in crowd of local fans, tourists and hotel guests. Al’s Den is not a comedy club for you if you need to know exactly which comics you’re going to see. It’s for adventurous types. Mimicking the style of many basement bar shows in the East Village, every weekend has a mix of visitors and local comics, including one long set from a headliner, tho there is currently no way to know who that headliner is before you arrive. Luckily the risk is low because the show is free, and the McMenamin’s venue has cheap cocktails and a late night food happy hour during the show. The low ceiling, dim lighting, and great lineups make for a perfect date spot. The shows also start late, so it’s a perfect stop after a concert at the Crystal Ballroom or other early-in-the-evening plans. For updates on Al’s Den, just show up on Friday or Saturday any week, after around 10:30.
Bridgetown Comedy Festival
Portland owes a good deal of our current comedy notoriety to Bridgetown. Also orchestrated by mostly women, including Charlene Conley and Portland comedian and personal hero Whitney Streed, as well as founders / comedians Andy Wood and Matt Braunger, Bridgetown started as a fairly small operation nine years ago and has grown into a multi-venue, four day comedy festival that attracts some of the best talent and industry from around the country. It’s become the gold standard that indie comedy festivals (of which there are now TONS) have tried desperately to replicate, with varying degrees of success. Again, I’m not just kissing ass here. As a nobody comic who has done many other small fests, Bridgetown is like a vacation for a performer. And I don’t think anybody is getting rich off of comedy festivals, so the crew in charge of Bridgetown must be downright mentally ill to keep embarking on this crazy labor of love every year. I happen to live in the festival’s hometown (this was calculated) but when I travel the country, to every size of city and comedy scene, there is no other festival comedians seem to care more about getting into than Bridgetown. Unlike many of the indie festivals that imitate it, Bridgetown is committed to booking a diverse lineup of comedians every year, including a solid percentage of women, and stuffing all those comedians with donuts, pizza, and free booze all weekend. It is summer camp for comedians, and as a comedy fan, absolutely any showcase you stumble into that weekend will be good. The lineup is usually announced in April sometime on their website at bridgetowncomedy.com
Off the Beaten Path
So, you live in Oregon but not Portland exactly and you want to see comedy too, right? Well, coastally I believe you are pretty much screwed. But you do have the ocean to see, and that’s nice, right? Here are a few things inland I know about.
Vancouver Comedy: The Kiggins
Vancouver, Washington isn’t really that far from Portland. But sometimes, on certain nights, just the thought of crossing both a bridge and a border can feel like too much to deal with. If you live in the ‘Couv, or “Vantucky,” as many classist Portlanders lovingly refer to it, check out the calendar for the Kiggins Theatre. They’ve got regular and cheap comedy nights, including one-off special events. kigginstheatre.net
Salem Comedy: Capitol City Theater
Local comedian Jared Richard has worked tirelessly to build a reliable comedy schedule in downtown Salem, based out of the beautiful Capitol City Theater. The venue now has multiple comedy nights, including open mics, if you live further south and want a bit of a shorter drive to watch comedy or perform.
To be frank, I don’t know much about the Eugene comedy scene, aside from the NW Women’s Comedy Festival, which is always awesome but only happens once a year, and comedian Seth Milstein. I would love to know more, and frankly it’s strange I don’t, given that we live 90 minutes away. I know there’s a new “comedy club” there, and that the owner was a real dick to me on the internet once. But I suppose if you wanna stay in town and see comedy, you could try it out. To get information on the shows you have to go through jarshark.com. Another option is just drive up to Portland?
Nestled about three hours Southeast of Portland, Bend is kind of a sleepy ski and brewery type town and comedian Ryan Traughber has done a great job of booking and promoting a steady room there, housed at Summit Saloon. Unlike some other Oregon towns (Eugene), Ryan’s paid attention to comics on the Portland and national scene and brought many of us down to headline. It’s a warm and fun room, with great food and local beers. Check out their calendar at bendcomedy.com.
So what if all the amazing things I told you about Portland comedy have inspired you to give stand-up a try? Well lucky for you there are many open mics in Portland, and you can perform just about every night of the week if you wanted. There’s a full list of mics on the Portland Comedy Blog (also lovingly managed by Danny Felts, adopted by previous owner Whitney Streed!), but here are just a few of my favorites, as well as some open mic comedy tips from me to you.
The Boiler Room: Mondays
The Boiler Room is Portland’s longest standing open mic night and is hosted by a real nice dude named Kevin, who runs an extremely tight ship, making room for a ton of comics every week, and making all of them feel welcome. Should you decide to do your first set at the Boiler Room, keep in mind that much of the crowd, if they aren’t comics, are there waiting for a karaoke night to start and had no plans to listen to your heroic take on Tinder dating. So don’t take it personally if the laughs don’t come very easily. Just get your words out in the right order and the first time you get a big laugh at the Boiler Room, it will feel like a beautiful victory. And if you bomb, you can always have some cheap drinks and cry-sing Linger by The Cranberries after.
The Funhouse Open Mic
The Funhouse Lounge, also the home of Midnight Ma$$, has become a staple venue for Portland’s open mics. Wednesday nights are hosted by our other grumpy comedy dad Sean Connery (actual name), who somehow has the patience to host sometimes up to 50 comedians every week, like an American goddamned hero. As the comics leave, the crowd tends to thin out towards the end so if you’re new, I would suggest signing up with Sean for an early spot on the list.
The Real Comedy Spot: Mondays at Duff’s Garage
Tyrone Collins, AKA The Real Hyjinx, has been a central part of Portland’s comedy scene for years. He used to host my favorite open mic at the now closed Red Room, and has found a new home at Duff’s. By no means a completely “safe space,” Hyjinx will however discourage newcomers from joking about a few things he doesn’t want to hear—among them police killings. He is a positive, vibrant, and father-like force in Portland stand-up. This is a great open mic if you want to get a slightly longer set (7 minutes) and everyone who signs up gets to do time so you don’t have to worry about being turned away.
Helium Comedy Club: Tuesdays
Here I am being a company dude again, but if you’re starting comedy in Portland, I cannot stress enough the importance of signing up for the Helium mic if you’d like to eventually get regular paid work in town. The lineup is limited and changes every week, so you’re not always guaranteed a spot. Club managers Adam and Shana pay close attention to new comics on the scene and the mic seems to be a training ground for potential hiring. Aside from the chance at future work, the Helium mic typically has a crowd, and paid comics fill out the later half of the show, so after trying out your own stuff, you can watch more experienced comics like Nathan Brannon and Sean Jordan try out new material. The time limit is not a joke on this mic, and they will cut your sound if you run the light. In fact, they seem to almost enjoy it? So it’s a great exercise in practicing joke timing for that Conan set you’ll totally probably get one day.
Lights Out at The Lamp
If you sign up at Helium and don’t get on, wander just a few blocks to the Lamp open mic, hosted by Jeremy Eli and Nick Walker. The Lamp feels like someone’s living room, and is about as divey as a bar gets. Tuesday bartender Cruz is very beloved by the comedians in town, and even ten people in the room make the show feel full and the laughs seem loud. There’s not much in the way of a stage, but the room is pretty attentive, the drinks are cheap, and everyone gets to go up so it’s a great option if you’re a new comic.
But I want to see REALLY FAMOUS COMICS in Portland. Where do I go?
OK, I get it. Enough with this local talent, “gonna be famous one day” crap. You want to see the Gaffigans and the Sykeses and the Buresses when they come to town. A number of Portland’s venues and theaters have comedy as well as music. If a comic gets too big for Harvey’s or Helium or doesn’t want to do so many nights, they’ll venture out to the music venues. The best place to look for local comedy listings is probably The Mercury, but I would also check the calendars of The Aladdin Theater (my personal favorite large comedy venue in town), the brand new Revolution Hall, Mississippi Studios, and The Schnitzer for the really big comics.
Local comic Trevor Thorpe runs a great recurring show at The Doug Fir Lounge, which feels like watching your favorite comics in a cozy ski lodge. Much of the time, you might even see one of your favorite locals opening up for any of these headliners. Bonus!
I hope that as you lay on your deathbed after this month of taking in the best of Portland comedy, you will have no regrets. And most importantly that as you make your way towards the bright shining light, you say a prayer for those of us working to move towards our own.
Amy Miller is originally from Oakland, California. She won Portland’s Funniest Person contest in 2015 and has been on Last Comic Standing, NPR, Doug Loves Movies and more. Follow her at @amymiller and her monthly show at @midnightmasspdx.