Bridgetown post-fest reflection: Not Too Serious

For the longest time, I have been such a fan of stand-up comedy. Something about telling a joke with such confidence is liberating. I had the great good fortune to attend the Bridgetown Comedy Festival two weeks ago, and let me tell you: it was worth it.

I started my comedy festivities Thursday night with the opening show at the Bossanova Ballroom. The biggest guest that night was actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo. I grew up watching and listening to Garofalo, and I loved every second of her set.

The thing that makes stand-up comedy work (aside from the jokes) is the club atmosphere. The line outside Bossanova was shockingly small for a show with a performer like Garofalo, but it filled up quickly. As I headed into the Ballroom, the music was blaring and excitement was in the air. Drinks were cheap and added to the raucousness of the evening ahead.

The energy in the room was one of anticipation and Maker’s Mark, and it was incredible. I’d never heard of the other comedians on the bill, and most of them rose to the challenge of sharing a stage with Garofalo. There were a few lackluster comedians in the opening set, but we all loved it anyway.

One of my favorites was Sonia Denis, who has been featured on Comedy Central. Her jokes landed well, but the thing that made me like her the most was her personality. She was so confident in her ability and so comfortable in her body. She is a true performer. Look her up!

Garofalo came out with her set written on a napkin, which I felt was brilliant. She talked about everything from Portland culture to Star Wars and the current political climate. What a cool way to open.

The next event I hit was a more structured show called “Reunited.” The premise was that a bunch of comedians were acting as if they were the cast of a made-up sitcom and discussing behind-the-scenes hijinx. The big headliner here was Patton Oswalt, whom I respect the hell out of. But, I gotta say, I was really not a fan of this show. The comedians themselves were great, but the material they were working with wasn’t the best. I was utterly underwhelmed, and at points the whole crowd was right there with me. But Oswalt has such a cool energy to him that I mostly forgave the faults of this particular show.

Later that week I went to “Late Late Breakfast” at Analog Cafe in Southeast Portland, which felt like a New York comedy club. It was dark, the music was loud, and the drinks were—you guessed it—cheap. This show was all about comedians doing their usual jokes, but with a twist. Each performer would stab a balloon with a challenge inside of it, and as they were performing their material they had to do that challenge. From making chili dogs for the crowd to finding small toy horses, this felt like the comedy show I wanted to see so badly. The comedians were hilarious, the crowd was electric and nobody took themselves too seriously.

I think that’s the thing that made my experience at Bridgetown worth it: the lack of seriousness. Everyone knew that they were there to laugh their troubles away and see comedians do what they do best. It’s the same reason people go to sporting events or the theater: we want to see talented people do what they’re good at. If you have a chance to go to any of the comedy shows next festival, freakin’ do it. Hell, why not hit up some local shows right now at Curious Comedy Theater, Helium, or Harvey’s? It’s cool seeing comedians that you’ve never heard of in cool venues with awesome drink deals. Revel in the lack of seriousness. Let your guard down and have yourself a damn good time. You’ll be glad you did.