Can Portland's Creative Community Survive Development, Price Surge?
(Writer's note: busy week in the Arts section. Here's an expanded version of the Comedy Is OK story from the week's print edition.)
"Patton Oswalt has a funny quote," says Mikey Kampmann. "'Someone needs to set an ambition bomb off in Portland.'" Kampann, along with his friend and co-host Andrew Michaan, laughs. "It's true." And in their own little way, the duo are building a bomb.
In October of last year the 22 and 23-year-olds created Comedy Is OK, a monthly showcase of local stand up. To be sure, there a plenty of nights packed with local comedians—one for almost every day of the week. But they are open mics, whose wide variance of talent—from genius to flat out shit—don't always inspire an audience wider than the comedians themselves. Surely the open mics are necessary for developing talent, and for maintenance of the art in general—indeed they birthed Portland's burgeoning comedy scene. But open mics can't nurture that child into an adult. Michaan and Kampmann are hoping to help the kid grow. There's a lot to be done.
"Before we got into the comedy scene," says Michaan, "we didn't know there was a comedy scene," says Michaan.
Using work connections at the Clinton St. Theatre, the duo booked a night, rounded up a number of local comics and packed the house, 180 strong. It was "the biggest crowd and the worst show," says Kampmann. In the handful of performances since, the duo say they've learned a lot about what makes a good show. Part of that is being selective about the booking.
"We really try to maintain that this is our show," Kampmann says, but it's about more than their reputations. "People are going to come to it and they're going to walk away saying, 'that was good, I want to do that again,' or 'that was shit and I want to go to a music show tomorrow night.'"
Picking comedians ought to be as simple as the duo's guiding principle: "we book people 100% because they're funny and for no other reason," says Michaan.
But the apparently straightforward selection process has, at times, rubbed some in the tightly knit local scene the wrong way. Like any group that's been around for years, no matter the size, there are politics.
"We'll get booked for a show and sometimes that person will expect us to book them for our show," says Kampmann. "And if we don't (return the favor), they're pissed at us. It sucks, because you wonder: did they book me because they think I'm funny or because they want to get on my show?"
As far as the public's interest in stand up, Michaan and Kampmann believe a city as culturally aware as Portland is a sleeping giant just waiting to be woke up (or in Kampmann's case, a field of kale waiting to be harvested). They see two potential targets: likeminded young people who've never seen a live comedy performance, and those who've been turned off by a bad one. Says Michaan, "the message we're trying to bring with show is: if you've been to a bad comedy show, we're sorry."
The duo are avid that stand up makes for every bit as good of an evening out as what we're used to. "If you're thinking about going to a hip new music show—just don't," laughs Michaan. "I think (comedy) will be a more memorable experience."
Unfortunately, there's a real rub in the plan—Comedy Is OK appears to have a born on shelf date. Both the transplants profess to love it here, but see a future as a working comic in Portland as the impossible dream. Both have plans to ship off by the end of the year. Michaan put it all in perspective: "if after a few months we have what is one of the most successful—if not the most successful—showcase in town, that just tells you how big the scene is. There's just not as much comedy as there should be."
COMEDY IS OK: Thursday, April 1st @ Clinton St. Theatre. 9:00PM. $5.
Featuring: Gabe Dinger, Jimmy Newstetter, Paul Schlesinger, Whitney Streed, Aaron Ross (Star of the Ed Forman Show), Christian Ricketts (Star of his basement) + the premiere of an original video, "Shut Up And Ride", by Andrew Michaan, Mikey Kampmann, and Michael Ward.