Bridgetown Comedy Festival: a summer camp of comedians

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The Portland-born Bridgetown Comedy Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary May 4–7. The event will kick off with a performance by Patton Oswalt on May 2 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The Vanguard had the chance to speak with Bridgetown co-founders Andy Wood and Matt Braunger. Wood’s credits include working and performing on shows such as How to Build Everything and You Can Do Better and producing and acting in the movie Jason Nash is Married. Braunger has appeared on shows such as Agent Carter, BoJack Horseman, Pushing Daisies, and The Michael J Fox Show.

The two started the event in an effort to bring their favorite comedians and friends to Portland, which they found surprisingly lacking in terms of a comedy scene. A little over ten years ago, Wood was a member of an online message board for comedians and fans that discussed topics like alt-comedy and the ’90s comic scene. Wood said that, when contemplating how to establish Portland as a place as desirable for comedians as Los Angeles or New York, he thought of all the comedians he was friends with, talked to and admired, and realized, “I could just ask that guy.” He continued asking friends, and friends of friends and so on, until the event grew and grew into a festival. Word of mouth.

Oswalt, who frequented those same message boards, reached out and added himself to the burgeoning line up. Wood credits Oswalt’s presence and ability to draw a crowd as the reason the pair were able to continue the festival for a second year: The first event not only broke even, it made a small profit. “[Oswalt] isn’t one of those guys who closes doors behind him,” Wood said.

The first year included approximately 50 comics over three days. This year includes eight venues, 30 shows, and over 130 performers. Shit’s gonna be good.

Over the last decade, changes to the festival have largely reflected changes to the city itself. At its core Bridgetown remains, in Wood’s phrase, a “summer camp of comedians,” and a lot of the festival is about seeing new people and new ideas the public is not yet unaware of.

“Everything else has changed,” Wood said. The hotel room prices have gone up. The city has changed. The cost of everything has changed. There is “a boom [where] everyone’s brother and sister is doing stand up.” The number of submissions for Bridgetown has increased significantly over the course of its history. However, Wood notes, “Everyone is so supportive of the festival that it maintains its original spirit.”

When asked what advice the two might have for budding comedians looking to break into the entertainment world, Braunger replied, “Don’t do it,” and a beat later “I’m kidding.” He recommends asking yourself one question before beginning: “Why are you doing it?”

“Satisfying your ego is great,” Braunger continued. “But if it’s just for that, be careful. If you [are staying for that], you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.” His second piece of advice is to “work on the stuff you think is funny. Don’t write jokes you think other people think are funny.” He added that for audiences it is really easy to tell where a comedian’s enthusiasm is—what really makes them mad or excited or sad. You just can’t fake it, in terms of your emotion.

“It’s a big problem these days, [you] can see what everyone else is doing,” Wood added. Thanks to platforms like Netflix, which produces recordings of live stand-up and makes them available to anyone with an ex’s password, lazy comedians are “aping what they’ve seen work for others, and it’s not fun for anyone.”

“The stakes are so low, you might as well do what you love,” Braunger said. “It can be paralyzing with that much freedom. Don’t be too hard on yourself or expect too much too fast. And don’t compare yourself [to others].”

One last piece of advice that Wood offers: “Be nice. No one cares why you’re nice, but it will pay off.”

Every Bridgetown Comedy Festival event is something to look forward to. Wood and Braunger said they were most excited about the Evening with the Guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000. (And you can catch up or familiarize yourself with old and new episodes on Netflix—as if you’ve forgotten.)

There will also be a couple of shows by The New Negroes, which features up and coming voices of color and just got a spot on Comedy Central.

Eugene Miriam, known for voicing Gene on Bob’s Burger’s and co-hosting Star Talk with Neil Degrasse Tyson will co-emcee Hold On with Eugene Miriam with guests Karen Kilgariff, Kyle Kinane and Guy Branum.

Branum has appeared on Chelsea Lately, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and No Strings Attached; at Bridgetown he will appear in The Goddamn Comedy Jam, Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction, and Guy Branum’s Gay Bash.

The podcast Probably Science features comedians who have backgrounds in STEM fields, including Andy Wood.

Fans of dogs and podcasts can look forward to Can I Pet your Dog?, featuring Janeane Garofalo. Garofalo has appeared in Wet Hot American Summer, Ratatouille, The West Wing and many, many others in addition to her work as an activist and stand-up comedian. At Bridgetown, she will also appear in Herlarious and Make America Laugh Again.

While it is possible to buy tickets at the door to individual events, Wood and Braunger strongly suggest buying a pass for the whole festival. With such a wide breadth of performances and events, it’s impossible to figure out in advance everything you’re going to want to see, so do yourself a favor and get a festival pass.

Note that all festival shows are 21+ unless otherwise indicated on their schedule. Those interested in volunteering at Bridgetown can check out their volunteer page. For more information about Bridgetown Comedy Fest, visit Bridgetowncomedy.com

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