A (Nearly) Complete Guide to Portland Comedy

Comedy Features Portland
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Glaring Oversights
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

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.

Eugene Comedy
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?

Bend Comedy
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.

Open Mics
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.

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