The Bossanova Ballroom is the first room on the first unofficial-but-slightly-still-official night of the 10th Annual Bridgetown Comedy Festival and the artists are performing to a packed house. All the seats are full and there are people against the wall and others scattered about on the floor. People are roaring with laughter, and eating up everything these hilarious 4 comedians are giving them. The host of the show, Bri Pruett, is a Portland native now living in Los Angeles. She’s very funny, someone I recommend you check out. It’s a non-official show on a Wednesday night and the house is echoing with laughter.
Just as the show cant get any better, surprise guest! The legendary Janeane Garofalo just came out to a standing applause and performed a solid 15 minutes. I haven’t seen her since Wet Hot American Summer in the early 2000’s but that doesn’t mean anything as there are so many movies and tv shows that have been released since then. Still she’s funny, topical, and even did some anti-pandering to the crowd that seemed to work really well.
Tom Thakkar, a comedian from Brooklyn, by way of Indiana, comes out slaughtering. His first joke on stage has the audience in the floor, and continues the pace for the next few minutes. His set seemed to be cut short, or maybe I just wanted to see more, as I felt he was just getting started. I catch up with Tom after the show.
Tony: I know you’re from Indiana but at what point did you move?
Tom: I left Indiana a couple of times. The first time when I was 22, after I graduated from college I got engaged to a girl who went to med school in Ohio. She begged me to move there, instead of moving to LA. I was going to move to LA with a Jimmy Kimmel internship. I moved to Athens, Ohio and obviously it didn’t work out. 10 months later I moved back to Bloomington. 3 1/2 years ago I moved to Chicago, and then to Brooklyn.
Tony: Wait. You’re telling me Ohio isn’t a hot spot for comedy?
Tom: I swear to god there were some fun shows there. I even started some shows there, I learned a lot about comedy there. I went to Columbus 3 times a week, which is probably what was wrong with my relationship. It’s a 2 hour drive there and a 2 hour drive back. So I was doing 4 hours on the road 3 nights a week to do open mics.
Tony: Who did you admire growing up?
Tom: Nick Swardson, Gaffigan, Maria Bamford. Those were my faves.
Tony: Have you gotten to work with them yet?
Tom: I got to open for Maria Bamford. She’s just the best, she’s incredible. I actually have an insane experience. Maria came through [the club in Bloomington] she did this weird workshop during the middle of the day where she invited all the local comics to come to the club and do their jokes in front of her and you could workshop your jokes with everyone and she would give you notes. Any time you start to think you’re doing anything Maria Bamford gave brand new comedians, and lunatics, comedy notes.
Tom has a podcast called Stand by your Band and you can find it on iTunes, or where ever you listen to your podcasts at, where he has different guests bring him their favorite bands and they have to defend them and why. It’s a very solid idea and I’m looking forward to listening to it myself. I travel a lot so podcasts get played a lot more in my car than music.
As I’m walking around show to show, venue to venue, a face that I keep seeing is that of David Perdue. A comedian just in town from Atlanta for some other shows but came out to support other comedians during their first show of the festival. We talk between sets until the headliner comes on; Shane Torres. A semi-local who just filmed his first Comedy Central special in New Orleans, Shane is closing the show with jokes about why do we hate Guy Fierei but love Anthony Bourdain. He is very persuasive and I think I might be on his side on this.
The after party is at a karaoke bar called Trio. I can’t begin to explain to you how fun it is being at a karaoke bar with nothing but comedians. It’s exactly how it sounds.
Day 2 of the festival and I’ve already caught a glimpse of Patton Oswalt and Baron Vaughn. I’ve seen many performances through out the first show but the highlights for me were Dusty Slay and Nasser Khan. Complete opposites in appearance and maybe even material, but captivating in their own right and both are names you should be looking up on YouTube and binge watching what they have listed. Shouldering and ducking through the crowd to find my way out, I am now at the smaller club Cider Riot and they’re performing to a packed house. It’s an intimate room with no seating available. This is a beautiful thing to see: people supporting art, or comedians specifically, as some cities fail to even sell out one show house hold names, much less sell out rooms on week days for artists you may or may not know.
Earlier in the day I introduced myself to a guy with long hair, a beard, sporting a backpack and a smile. He calls himself Dusty Slay and I can tell immediately he’s from the south. He doesn’t have a real thick accent but enough of one to notice, especially for a southern boy like myself who hasn’t heard a southern accent outside of his own since flying back home and talking to his uncles.
Dusty, originally from Alabama, has since moved to Charleston, South Carolina and now lives in Nashville. I have spent time in both cities and I love each of them, both with unique characteristics and beautiful people. The Portland air is thick with humidity during one of the few days of sunshine we have had this year, and with dark skies looming toward us we grab coffee at a quaint coffee shop just across the street from one of the clubs, where an out going lady who seems to be the owner rings us up and gives us some information regarding the area. We head outside to enjoy the weather as he allowed me to bug him for a few moments.
Tony: How many times did you apply for the festival?
Dusty: This is the first time. I think its all about the video. I finally got a good video. I’m just using a handicam and whenever I set up my camera somewhere and i can have the perfect show and I’ll go watch it and it’s echoey, you can barely hear what I say or someone bumped the camera, or someone sat in front of it. And I finally got a good video.
Tony: Same camera?
Tony: So what was the difference?
Dusty: It’s the club that I did. It’s Crackers in Broad Ripple, Indiana outside of Indianapolis. Its a great club. Indianapolis really gets my jokes.
Tony: Did you start comedy in Alabama?
Dusty: No, I moved to Charleston when I was 21 and I didn’t know anybody so I wanted to make friends and I read in the paper about adult improv classes and I was like ‘I don’t know what that is but let’s try it.’ So I did that and some buddies were like ‘You should do stand up.’ And so I just tried it. It scared me to death. I quit for years and then started back again in 2008 and I love it.
Tony: If you could give one piece of advice to a new comedian…
Dusty: The biggest thing to help me was just not drinking. Some people can handle it better than me. For 4 or 5 years I had this 20 minutes that I was messing around with. I quit drinking and I wrote an hour in like a year. I mean it’s not been that fluid sense but it’s amazing.
Tony: So you could see the hindrance?
Dusty: Yeah just dragging me down. Now to other people it’s different things, maybe it’s not drinking, but whatever that thing is get rid of that.
You can catch Dusty in Ohio, North Carolina and South Carolina this month. Google and YouTube his name to find out more information.
During the night I jump around to a few different venues to watch the various performers and themed shows that were going on. Cider Riot hosted new faces and festival favorites, the Analog Theater played home to NBC’s Superstore actor Nick Santos while the Doug Fir Lounge had Shane Torres who just filmed his own Comedy Central special down in New Orleans. There are dozens of faces running from one venue to the next for their performance or just to catch a show they were looking forward to.
Not all shows are stand up comedy, either, as most of them are themed. You had The New Negros which shined a light on black comedians and showcase them to help depart your idea of what ‘black comedy’ is suppose to be and it’s hosted by Baron Vaughn. You can catch Baron Vaughn as the voice of Tom Servo on Mystery Science Theater 3000 along with other Bridgetown Festival comedians Jonah Ray, Hampton Yount, and Patton Oswalt.
Other themed shows on the line up are Reunited! by Josh Androsky & Bryan Cook about a fake table read of a scripted tv show, Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction (also created by Bryan Cook), Rants off/Dance Off, Picture This!, and Turnt Up with Eliza Skinner. Eliza is another comedian I caught up with during the festival and you may know her as a writer on The Late Late Show with James Corden, an actress on Adam Ruins Everything, and host of the new TBS show Drop The Mic.
Tony: How does this festival compare to others?
Eliza: This festival is more like a summer for comedians. Getting to hangout and see each others work. Portland is such a nice place to come spend time. You got great restaurants, pretty streets to walk down. So it’s more of a fun, quality of life thing for comics to do than industry ‘This is gonna get me signed some place. This is gonna get me a tv show.’
Tony: Where did you come up with your show? Where did tell hip hop come from?
Eliza: I started it about 12 years ago in New York. It was a show called Beat Down. I came from improv, I did a lot of musical improv, and very often as a part of that there were situations where people would start rapping. And people, because of the way I look, never thought that I could rap so I felt like that I had to prove them wrong. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and grew up listening to a lot of rap so I had that in me already. I just had to be good at it in order to compete with all of these dudes and so I wanted to start my own show and knew someone who was a beatboxer. So we started doing it and it was great from the beginning.
Tony: I know you’ve had guests like Reggie Watts and Pete Holmes and even TJ Miller. Out of all your guests, who are your favorites?
Eliza: Thomas Middleditch (HBO’s Silicon Valley) was really great. He is very bad at rapping but really good at winning. Donald Glover was fun, also never won.
Tony: Who surprised you the most?
Eliza: I don’t know if any surprised me. Some surprised themselves. A lot of the times before the show they say they can’t do this then half way through they say ‘I’m going to do this!’ and start trying harder.
Throughout the festival I seen a lot of the same faces and smiles, a lot of people slapped me on the back as they passed by, head nodded, or just generally acknowledged me as a nod to a familiar face in a city of strangers. Most of the volunteers at the festival are from out of town and have come to work.
The event as part of the comedy scene circuit. One of the dues you pay in order to network, watch, learn, and overall just be entertained. This is the best version of an internship, and while I recognize that there is true work involved I can’t imagine a better scenario for someone to volunteer than in a place where people are only around to make your time on earth more enjoyable, to make you smile. Comedy can be self serving for the performer as it can be looked as another avenue for someone to beg for your attention, but at least their only goal is to make you laugh and to enjoy your day even if it’s for only 5 minutes at a time.
Friday was my last day and I ended up getting to watch and even have actual conversations with a few of my favorite comedians including Jonah Ray (the host of The New Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix), Dave Hill, and Annie Lederman. These are all names you should already be familiar with but if you’re not then I implore you to look them up and find what suits your comedy pallet.
The festival runs from Wednesday to Sunday but due to scheduling I only stayed for 3 of those days. In that amount of time I was able to experience comedy in a way I never had before while also enjoying stand up in its purest form. From themed shows to open mics. From sitcom stars to late night writers to open mic’ers. At one point I even got to meet Matt Braunger, one of the co-creators of the festival, and veteran stand up comedian as well. This was the 10th Annual Bridgetown Comedy Festival and I hope I get to see 10 more! I recommend everyone take at least one night to go check out a show when it comes back in town next year, or just go find your nearest comedy club and check out any performance as it’s almost guaranteed you’re going to laugh.