|The Bridgetown Comedy Festival arose from a love of boundary-pushing comedy shared by a fan, a budding comedian and an emerging talent who met one night at a Portland comedy show. In October of 2007, after a performance at Portland’s Towne Lounge, comedians Matt Braunger and Andy Wood were joined for a drink by comedy fan Kimberly Brady. Over the course of the conversation, the three realized how similar their taste in comedy was. They agreed that while the national standup scene was in the midst of a golden age, as was the Pacific Northwest’s, Portland’s exposure to it was somewhat limited.
When Kim suggested the idea of producing a festival in Portland, they all thought that an event of that kind was long overdue. As the three began to make a wishlist of names, They found that Matt knew many of their favorite comics from his time in Chicago and Los Angeles, and that a large number of them had expressed an interest in coming to Portland to perform. As the lineup for the first year of the festival began to coalesce, eventual 2008 headliner Patton Oswalt learned about the plans for Bridgetown. He liked the idea of a Portland festival so much that he contacted the founders about helping get the fledgling event off the ground, and his performance at Bridgetown helped ensure that year one of the festival would be a success.
Barfly impresario Jen Lane suggested centering the festival in Southeast Portland’s Hawthorne district, home to a plethora of bars, theaters and music venues. It was a perfect location in its eclectic mix of traditional theaters and unconventional performance spaces. The variety of stages and the walkability of the neighborhood gave Bridgetown a true festival feel – audience members could see any of the dozens of shows over the course of the weekend with a single wristband, and they could quickly hop from seeing a sold-out show in a 500-seat venue to seeing a national headliner in an intimate, 20-seat performance space on a bar’s back patio.
Along with Comedians of Comedy’s Patton Oswalt, 2008’s festival included Sarah Silverman Program regular Tig Notaro, whose previous performance in Portland on the Crackpot Comedy Tour had her doing standup for a packed house in festival producer Andy Wood’s basement in what would turn out to be an apt precursor to the Portland-centric fun of the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. Portland-born Bridgetown co-founder and Late Show with David Letterman veteran Matt Braunger wowed the crowds at Mt. Tabor Theater, as did Oregon-born comic and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon writer Morgan Murphy. Reno 911!’s Natasha Leggero and Fuel TV’s Chris Fairbanks brought the funny while dozens of the country’s best up-and-coming comics grew new fanbases in Portland over the course of the weekend.
In its second year, the festival was headlined by hilarious SNL and The Larry Sanders Show alumnus Janeane Garofalo, whose enthusiasm for the event had her wanting to try her hand at even the most unlikely of venues. Bridgetown 2009 featured a tribute to unclassifiable comedy with a show that included brilliant Andy Kaufman Award-winners Reggie Watts and Brent Weinbach. The lineup also included a cast reunion of the hit animated comedy Home Movies in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the program’s debut, featuring creators Brendon Small of Metalocalypse fame and Loren Bouchard, along with comedians and fellow cast members Melissa Galsky and Ron Lynch. Bridgetown branched out into improvisational comedy for the first time with the addition of Beer Shark Mice, one of the best long-form improv groups in the country, featuring David Koechner of Anchorman and Saturday Night Live and Neil Flynn, best known as the hilarious janitor from Scrubs.
Late-night sketch and variety shows including The Tomorrow Show, featuring Brendon Small, Craig Anton and Ron Lynch, The Midnight Show, featuring James Adomian and Michael Busch and the Dave Hill Explosion were added to the 2009 festival to complement such Northwest mainstays as Portland’s Famous Mysterious Actor Show and Seattle’s much-lauded People’s Republic of Komedy. 2009’s festival also featured award-winning comedy podcasts including Todd Glass and Jimmy Dore’s Comedy and Everything Else, Guys With Feelings and PRI’s The Sound of Young America, featuring a wide range of guests from music and the arts including legendary comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, Portland music staples Blitzen Trapper and Mirah, and appearances by some of the funniest comics in the festival.
2010 saw the addition of shows including Theme Park, a star-studded improv troupe featuring “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Community” stars Oscar Nunez, Scott Adsit and Danny Pudi, along with a panel discussion with Conan O’Brien’s writing staff after Conan’s unfortunately short-lived stint as host of “The Tonight Show.” Bridgetown 2010 also showcased new-to-the-festival comics including “The Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, Hal Sparks, Christian Finnegan and Maria Bamford. The festival screened notable films like the critically acclaimed “Successful Alcoholics,” and Jordan Brady’s “I Am Comic,” an in-depth look at the life of a standup comedian featuring interviews with dozens of comedy heavy-hitters, and filmed in part at the 2009 Bridgetown fest.
Bridgetown 2011 added some hometown flair, with acclaimed director and Portland native Lance Bangs curating his show “Come Laugh With Us,” which included screenings of some of his rarely seen works, along with performances by Kristen Schaal and “Portlandia” star Fred Armisen. Kristen’s shows, including her variety show “Hot Tub” co-hosted by Kurt Braunohler, were a smash, as were the appearances by comics such as Margaret Cho, Doug Benson and Iliza Schlesinger. IFC sketch comedy troupe “Whitest Kids U’ Know” wowed the crowds with a sold-out show at the Hawthorne Theatre, and Jimmy Dore brought the funny with his “Pop & Politics.”
Celebrating its fifth year in 2012, Bridgetown featured the casts and creators of the hilarious Adult Swim shows “Delocated” and “Eagleheart,” with Jon Glaser hosting a hit variety show in character as his “Delocated” alter-ego, featuring the Corin Tucker Band and Fred Armisen. Matt Besser performed a first-ever live recording of his podcast “improv4humans” to a packed house at Hawthorne Theatre, Doug Benson brought his popular Movie Interruption to Hollywood Theater with a 35mm screening of the Nicolas Cage classic “Con Air,” and Dr. Peter McGraw defended his comedy research with a lively panel discussion of “The Humor Code.”
2013 is looking to be the best year yet for Bridgetown, with tons of new talent alongside audience favorites!
Photos courtesy of Megan Berru, Heather Christianson, Brian Brewer and Andy Wood