portland comedy

Let’s see, now, where were we? Big inauguration, American carnage, big threats, bellicose speech. Bigger protest, millions of women, pink hats, sea to shining sea. Twitter wars unabated. Health care on the skids. War on reporters. Alternative facts.

And, oh, yes, tucked away there in the corner: a vow to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. And kill the National Endowment for the Humanities. And “privatize” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has mostly been privatized already, anyway. Cost-cutting. Getting tough on the budget. Victory for the taxpayers. (NEA 2016 budget: $148 million. NEH 2016 budget: $148 million. Percentage of total federal budget, each: 0.003. CPB 2016 funding via federal government: $445 million. Percentage of total federal budget, all three agencies: less than 0.02. Federal budget 2015 for military marching bands, $437 million. Taxpayer expense to build or renovate National Football League stadiums, past 20 years, mostly through local and regional taxes: more than $7 billion.)

A fiscal conservative or libertarian can make an honest argument for eliminating the NEA and NEH on grounds that they’re simply not an appropriate use of taxpayer funding; culture should be funded privately. Here at ArtsWatch we don’t agree with that analysis. We believe there are many valid reasons for government financial aid to culture, and that the payoffs to taxpayers are many, from economic – in healthy cities, the arts are job and money multipliers – to educational and much more. Historically, consider the continuing dividends of the WPA and other cultural projects underwritten by the federal government during the Great Depression of the 1930s: In Oregon, for instance, Timberline Lodge.

But there’s much more to this move than a courteous philosophical/economic disagreement. The move to defund the NEA has a long and embattled history, dating at least to the so-called “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s, when a resurgent right-wing political movement convinced that artists were mostly a pack of degenerate liberals discovered that attacking the arts was a splendid red-meat issue for its base. They didn’t succeed in killing off the national endowments, but they did weaken them. The new administration seems to think it can finally finish them off. That would weaken state agencies such as the Oregon Arts Commission, which gets funding from the NEA, and in turn weaken arts organizations across the state, which get money from the OAC and, often more importantly, a stamp of approval that helps them raise private donations. Killing the endowments would be a rash move that would save hardly anything in the national budget and cause deep mischief to the nation’s well-being. It strikes us as petty and vindictive and, frankly, foolish.

It’s also a reach that might fail. Republicans like culture, too, and understand its value, and often support it generously. Traditionally, that has included Republican politicians. Will they fall in line with the new administration, or will they quietly scuttle its gambit? Keep your eye on this thing. We will, too.



Duffy Epstein and Dana Green in the premiere of the D.B. Cooper play “db.” Photo: Owen Carey

THE FERTILE GROUND FESTIVAL, Portland’s sprawling celebration of new works in theater, dance, solo performance, circus arts, musical theater, comedy, and other things that ordinarily happen on a stage, continues through January 29. ArtsWatch writers have been out and about, writing their impressions. You can catch up with some of them below:


Stellar: rising comedy star Bri Pruett tries a little tenderness

Pruett's new solo show brims with compassion for ex-lovers and bodes well for her move to L.A.

Quick, blurt out the first word that springs to mind if I say “standup comedy about sex.”

“Warmhearted!” exclaims nobody…except maybe those who’ve seen Bri Pruett‘s Stellar.

Let’s face it: when recounting their sexual escapades onstage, standup comics have a reputation for being anything but kind. It’s a longstanding comic tradition to be crass, describing former lovers’ body parts and acts in unflattering detail; to be callous, claiming you never liked ’em anyway; to be sexist, generalizing their performance to apply to their entire gender; and to be cutting, trying your best to eviscerate with wit anyone you failed to conquer between the sheets.







Pruett’s not about to play it like that. While she’s definitely using her sex life as material (the solo show relies heavily on a list she’s kept of the names, star signs, and a few distinctive details about each of her many lovers), she doesn’t throw any of them under the bus. With benevolence toward her younger self (“I would tell that little nugget, ‘You’re fine! There’s nothing wrong with you!'”) and acceptance of her current self, a confident self-declared “BBW,” Pruett extends her goodwill toward the bodies and souls of all of her past partners. “How many? As many as I wanted.”


Fertile Ground: Curtains (almost) up

ArtsWatch speed-dates the makers of 2017's Portland new-works festival. We don't kiss, but we do tell. Here's what's happening.


One thing we’ve learned in life: You can’t date everyone. Even speedily.

Nevertheless, the three of us took a pretty good shot at it on the first Thursday in January, when we set up business at a big table in Artists Repertory Theatre’s upper lobby and braced ourselves for an onrushing tide of producers, writers, directors, and performers in this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, an orgy of new theater, dance, comedy, solo, musical-theater, circus, and other performance works that’ll scatter across the city January 19-29.

The meet-and-greets, which are set up roughly like a speed-dating session (or so we’ve been told), are a cacophony of elevator speeches, and as it happens, all three of us knew what to expect from previous years’ free-for-alls. Theater people line up in front of a confusion of journalists from print, online, radio, and television outlets and work their way to the front, where they get five minutes to pitch their show and explain why that journalist really, really ought to see it and write very, very nicely about it. Then a whistle blows, and everyone moves on to the next encounter. Did you get that phone number/email address/press release/oddball memento? We’ll be in touch. (That little pink-wrapped chunk of Hubba Bubba bubble gum from 1980’s Teen Musical? We’ve tossed it in the drawer with all of our leftover 1982 Easter Peeps to help us make it through Armageddon.)

At the ArtsWatch table, and beyond. Fertile Ground photo

As usual, Fertile Ground boss Nicole Lane kept things on a strict schedule, and by evening’s end we hadn’t got around to talking to everyone. A few no doubt got caught up at other tables and ran out of time. A few just had other priorities. Some, we imagine, didn’t show up at all: they’re not the dating kind. Still, out of seventy-plus acts, we managed among us to talk with people from roughly forty. Add to those the dance productions that ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini has written about separately, and … let’s just say we played the field.

One of the great things about Fertile Ground, which began as an annual festival in 2009, is that it’s open to new projects at every stage of production, from first readings to staged readings to workshops to world premieres. Theater companies have started to book premiere productions to coincide with the festival, lending the city a sense of freshness and discovery, at least on its performance stages, every January. It’s like a smaller Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and just as unpredictable), but made up entirely of local acts.


Spinning wheel, dance by chance

BodyVox's new show of greatest hits takes a chance on chance, adding a comic lightness to a troubling time

“Awright, awright,” Jamey Hampton shouted into his microphone, sprinting onto the stage in his best Joel Grey/carnival-barker impersonation. “Here we go! Welcome to The Spin!”

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and suggest this isn’t the sort of opening you’d expect from, say, a Martha Graham dance concert. Then again, this is BodyVox, not Martha Graham, and in the world of BodyVox, where the view of American cultural history skews more through Mark Twain and James Thurber and Bee Bop a Lula and the vaudeville stage than through the Valley of Earnest Transcendental Gestures, the only surprise about a dance concert filtered through the TV game show Wheel of Fortune is that it’s taken the troupe 18 years to come up with it. After all, BodyVox operates under a couple of core assumptions that color its aesthetic approach: “entertainment” isn’t a dirty word, and humor is important stuff.

Hampton and company, taking a chance on dance. Jingzi Photography

Hampton and company, taking a chance on dance. Jingzi Photography

So, this is how The Spin landed on its opening night Thursday. The company’s nine dancers rehearsed 24 pieces – about 150 minutes of dance in all – from the repertory, and each title was entered in a slot on the giant spinning wheel, which multitasking stage hand Clark Young, sporting a bushy Portlandia beard and a shoulderless dress and answering to the name Manna White, rolled onstage between pieces. Hampton then cajoled someone in the audience to come on up and give ’er a spin. Then, depending on where it landed, the performers rushed to change into the proper costumes while Hampton, sometimes joined by his wife and co-company founder Ashley Roland, filled in the time with what the nightclub crowd refers to as “patter.” Sometimes it was a little story about how that piece came to be created. Sometimes it was a little bio about one or another of the dancers. Sometimes it was just … patter.


Final sketch: laughing all the way

If this is truly the end, Portland's 3rd Floor is going out with a comedy bang with "The Final Chapter"

The image of a woman bouncing a pajama-clad child in her arms brings with it suggestions of care, concern and comfort, perhaps even a sense of warm nostalgia for when we were young, too. But if the fleece-clad moppet actually is well over five feet tall and pushing 40, you know the world you’re observing has another agenda: to make you laugh.

Then again, comedy and sentimentality both are at work in The 3rd Floor XXXIII: the Final Chapter, playing at Miracle Theater Fridays and Saturdays through December 19. After nearly two decades as Portland’s sketch-comedy powerhouse, the 3rd Floor is billing this as its final creation — so you might say they really are rocking their baby to sleep.

The 3rd Floor: comedy at the upper levels.

The 3rd Floor: comedy at the upper levels.

Co-founder Ted Douglass told The Oregonian that the group is considering a 20th anniversary greatest-hits finale next summer, and no doubt such a show would have plenty to draw on. The 3rd Floor not only served as de facto center for a community of local sketch and improv purveyors, with more than 50 actors cycling through its ranks, but it established a national reputation among its comedy peers, both through touring and by hosting an annual sketch festival for several years. In 2010, the group even toyed with a more cohesive, story-driven approach (y’know … a play) with its film noir-inspired dark comedy Killing Time, which Douglass described as “Double Indemnity with time machines.”


We all encounter the same dilemma with our precious time and our entertainment dollars: where to spend? On what and whom? You often can’t know til you’re forty minutes deep whether you’ve chosen a show that suits your taste. This is especially true of the persona-driven, solo-style artists, like comedians and solo/lead musicians. If  you invest in a such a show and then can’t connect to its central PERSON—well, you’re stuck. “I’ll go to a festival,” you might say. “Then I’ll see everyone!” True. And if you have the patience for it, festivals can be a great forum for discovering new favorites. Risk/Reward and TBA will soon let you vet contemporary performers, while PDX POP NOW! will trot out the latest players on the local music scene. But at each of these fests, you’ll have to give each act 20-30 minutes of your energy, like ’em or not.

This weekend, two events offer a quicker turnaround: Siren Nation’s Dolly Hoot trots out a fleet of female singers, and Helium’s Funniest Person in Portland unleashes a cavalcade of comedians. In both events, each performer will be given very limited time, almost like an audition. If you pay attention—or better, take notes—you might find favorites in these disciplines, then look for shows that feature them in the future.


Siren Nation’s 8th Annual Dolly Hoot

Various local female-fronted bands take over the Alberta Rose to put their own spin on a sure thing: Dolly Parton’s song catalogue. The hand-picked 10-act roster includes Ruby Feathers, who bring a country/bluegrass twang; Woodwinds, who, despite the misleading name, revive a 90’s grunge-esque sound; and Brownish Black, who belt it out he-she gospel style.

comedycrowdHelium’s Funniest Person in Portland Contest

The culmination of a week-long throwdown, this contest will peak on Saturday and Sunday, with semi-final and final rounds. Ultimately, Helium will only name one victor—but you’re welcome to gleefully disagree, collecting a short list of favorite funny-people to look for around town in the months to come (until they move to LA, a la Ron Funches and Ian Karmel).


More from A. L. Adams >>
Support Oregon ArtsWatch >>

Oregon ArtsWatch Archives