Scenes from the 2016 All Jane Comedy Festival
I'm staying in a 1960s trailer in a backyard with free bicycle rentals, looking over a fence at an abandoned gas station converted into a food truck pod, and down the block sits In Other Words bookstore, with its front-window sign boasting it's a safe space that will not condone offensive talk or action.
Do I need to tell you I'm in Portland? Do I need to specify which Portland?
I'm here to cover the All Jane Comedy Festival, and recording a podcast Saturday afternoon with Page Hurwitz (the executive producer of NBC's Last Comic Standing, among her many credits). Perusing through the festival program last night, you may notice as I did that I'm the only man named in it, and I full realize that my privileges here as a journalist supersede and counteract my straight white cis maleness that would have precluded my participation here. All Jane used to be called the All Jane No Dick festival just for emphasis. But you won't see me complaining or asking about men's rights here. I'll leave that to the folks at Portlandia, who released their own satirical take on the men's rights movement just yesterday to preview Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's seventh season on IFC.
Speaking of which, more than a few sites reported on how In Other Words had expressed its own discomfort with Portlandia portraying its "feminist communism" with broad strokes as Women and Women First Bookstore, with a sign and a blog post titled: "Fuck Portlandia."
A week later, that sign no longer greeted customers in the front window. In its place, a black sign with white print reading: "Stand up against racism in OREGON."
Around the corner on MLK Boulevard sits the Curious Comedy Theater, home base for the All Jane Comedy Festival, with one show Wednesday, two shows Thursday, four each on Friday and Saturday and two more events Sunday before the headlining performance by Maria Bamford and Jackie Kashian at Revolution Hall down the road.
Dinah Foley hosted Thursday's stand-up showcase, noting that she could tell all of the jokes she skipped over the previous night when her mother attended "The Best of Portland Showcase." Foley introduced Andie Main as host of Revolution Comedy, "a show that raises money for progressive causes such as Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter," and Main joked about the ironies of catcalling a slut walk, being catcalled herself while dressed decidedly unsexy, and unveiled a Warner Herzog impersonation to top it all off. Danielle Perez from Los Angeles, where she hosts a monthly show called Gentrification in Highland Park, described herself as "aggressively fat yet still judgy." For a Blacktina in a wheelchair, she's not about to let anything get her down. Even catcalling both in real life and from thirsty social media men sliding into her DMs. Instead, she jokes about striving to "be the cripple you want to see in the world," and deciding depending upon every man what kind she'll actually be. Catcalling, men asking women to smile, and the societal pressures about what success means in life and relationships for women came up time and again.
Candy Lawrence, an LA-based comedian who started in Chicago, joked about how her grandmother gave her that Steve Harvey book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man," when she came out to her family as a lesbian. Lawrence is full of weird energy and voices, bouncing about and asking you to keep up with her. Anica Cihla drove down from Seattle and had plenty of jokes just about her short trip to Portland, as well as how comparing her sugar intake in grams to cocaine fueled her dramatic weight loss, and dispelled any lingering notions or prejudices you have about the Gypsy culture.
Maggie Maye, in from Austin, joked about how she's so single, she's no longer even taking applications from suitors. As for any friends who may worry about her, Maye simply reminds them, "It's lonely at the top." Being single is winning at life! Especially when living in Texas (or Florida, for that matter) makes it so easy legally to declare yourself married. "It should be harder to get married than summoning the Candyman." Maye is self-conscious about smiling, but she has developed three very specific new smiles just for the situations, including one to combat catcallers. It should do just the trick to throw them off.
Kate Willett headlined the showcase, and joked about how the stoner hippies she lives and hangs with in San Francisco try to use conspiracy theories to explain why they don't have privilege and/or why Willett has achieved any success. Her reply? "You don't understand. What's going on is you have male privilege and I'm doing way better than you." Feminism to her means full equality. Such as: "A woman could be president, but we are not going to be equal until I can pass out in more places." Just imagine a woman as an astronaut (which is a real thing), and Willett knew you could do that, but she then asks you to imagine a sleazebag or a pervert and you can only picture a man in that job. As for men asking women to smile, Willett knows firsthand that women aren't asking likewise of men. "I hang out with sad men all the time. It's part of my job!" She also hangs around polyamorous clowns, too, which is another story, and you should be grateful she has lived to tell you that tale.
I'm looking forward to seeing more of the comedians at All Jane this weekend -- not only people I've seen on the TV before such as Dulce Sloan and Emily Galati, but also stand-up from comedians I've only known online as Facebook friends or even those people I've never seen or heard from before.
Of course, anytime you get to see Maria Bamford is a real treat. Bamford will be performing Sunday night with her regular touring partner, Jackie Kashian, plus an opening set from The Curious Comedy All-Stars. If you haven't yet seen Bamford's wonderfully surreal, semi-autobiographical, full-on-funny series, Lady Dynamite on Netflix, please take a few hours to take in the 12-episode first season (a second is forthcoming).
Or just buy Bamford's brand-new CD, "20%," released two weeks ago. It'll get you caught up on her life since treating herself for mental illness, and finding love and contentment both in her relationships and in her career. As she says on track two, "Showing Up," finding the right one seems all too similar to finding out the key to success in show business. Working through the tough times, she notes (in a variety of voices):
"Like in this job, when I say, 'Oh I want to have new material, but I don't want to have to do vulnerable impersonations of my mother at a sports bar where the Raisin Bran Bowl is playing and nobody's listening!' Well, Princess Daffodil, that would be the whole fucking thing. So why don't you learn to project above nine television sets and make some friends! And if you're lucky in life you get to have those dark times, the relationship equivalent of two weeks in Laughlin, Nevada. Bombing three shows a night for hundreds of silent, angry jet-skiers. Oh, laughing and crying, thinking 'This is not at all what I wanted!' But there's always one strawberry toaster pastry left in that hallway vending machine. You can split it with the middle act and you can make it through another show."
On the flip side, Bamford continues, you have nights where everything goes as hoped, and after acknowledging both her first wedding anniversary and her 25th anniversary in show business, she notes: "I love you far more deeply than the day we first met, and the fact that we all still have the free will to abandon each other at any given moment makes it all the more compelling."
Indeed it does!
Maria Bamford's "20%" is so compelling, I only wonder why it isn't already a Netflix special to watch, too.
I suppose you'll just have to see her live to witness her genius, then.