Don't Tell Comedy: It's OK to laugh again, Portland
What has been funny about the past couple years?
With wars, politics, race issues, the cultural divide and especially the pandemic, not much has been funny, especially from a nonpartisan perspective.
Shain Brenden, Portland comic, has a short answer.
"I can't speak for the entire comedy community, but for me personally, I have to find something funny," he said. "Comics are regular people — they go through emotions and everything else, but the comic brain never shuts off. No matter how dark things get. I acknowledge the darkness. In the same breath, 'There's an angle here.' In this moment of not feeling great, 'What makes me feel good?'"
Brenden usually keeps it straight, and doesn't languish in low-hanging-fruit topics. "I'm not on the edgy and divisive side," he said. "A lot of my stuff is personal."
Despite the world's woes, life goes on for a comedian. Brenden continues to do shows, and now he'll produce a restart of a national comedy series in Portland, Don't Tell Comedy. It's proven to be popular in other cities, and it was once tried in Portland and now it's back. Don't Tell Comedy features local comedians and some touring ones, doing their standup in a locale (usually) only known to paying customers the day of the show.
They are smaller shows, and not unlike pop-up music and theater events, "a secret, inclusive thing," Brenden said.
The first Portland shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 20-21. Promoters are letting us know venues early, actually: Friday's gig is at The Hallowed Halls (seating around 70) at 4420 S.E. 64th Ave. and Saturday's is at Elisabeth Jones Art Center (seating 50 to 80 depending on the room) at 516 N.W. 14th Ave.
Don't Tell Comedy has featured the likes of Michael Che, Iliza Shlesinger, Ali Wong and Nikki Glaser, as well as newer stars Irene Tu, Mark Smalls and Danny Jolles.
"I've done shows in L.A., San Francisco, Boston, Texas," Brenden said. "The appeal to Don't Tell shows is, yeah they're in small places, but they're cool places, the locations are just as much part of the show as the show. Comics and the audience can feel that energy back and forth.
"It's entertainment, and it brings people to a comedy show that probably have never been to a comedy show before. Because it ends up being in a cross-fit gym or on a rooftop at an apartment complex or in a nicely landscaped back yard — and, by the way, weirdos are telling jokes." There have been gigs at a barber shop and on board a steamship.
After all, a comedian can tell a joke anywhere, right?
"I can make an attempt," Brenden added. "I won't necessarily guarantee the joke lands. It's all about context. I've performed at corporate gigs. Sometimes they've been good and sometimes a train wreck. It's context." An office Christmas party or a standup in a college cafeteria have been known to go south on a comedian — "several of my buddies and myself included call them 'Hell Gigs.'"
Comedy still exists in Portland, although longtime club Harvey's Comedy Club in Northwest Portland closed some years ago.
Helium Comedy Club continues to be a draw because of its national acts. Various venues put on comedy shows, such as Mississippi Pizza Pub, 3552 N. Mississippi St. and its "Dough" show each Wednesday.
Local comedian/rapper/host Shrista has started a new comedy night series at Kelly's Olympian, 426 S.W. Washington St.
It's called "Clownin'," and it kicks off 8 p.m. Sunday, May 22. It features top comedians such as Bryan Bixby, who was Willamette Week's Funniest Person 2022, and Adam Pasi, Helium Portland's Funniest Person 2019 and '20.
The live show pulls inspiration from shows like VH1's "Wild N Out" and HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," offering a party-like vibe with a deejay and concluding with a performance from a locally based hip hop artist.
For tickets, see www.eventbrite.com.
And, for other comedy shows, check out the website laughspdx.com. It's got a list of shows, open-mic nights and more.
"Portland's a great comedy scene, just as much as a music scene," Brenden said. Portland hosts national comics you see on television, while some "live in St. Johns and are forced to do yard work."
Uh, that would be Brenden. "I have a long list of honey-do items my wife gave me, including the most brutal landscaping and pulling weeds," he added. "I'm not going to find pleasure out there, but I'll be thinking about jokes, and then I'll go on stage and ramble on about how glamorous my life is."
Brenden said Don't Tell Comedy plans to do a show a month in Portland. It won't let you know where it is or who'll be performing in it, usually, unless you buy tickets. It's part of the deal.
You can follow Brenden on Instagram, his only social media outlet.
"Instagram is pictures and videos, lighthearted," he said. "Twitter is a Dumpster fire of hate and ugliness. And, Tik Tok … I'm almost 40 years old and it gives me a headache. My daughter tells me to put my stuff on Tik Tok, and I said, 'No, it's for people like you to go on there and dance.'"
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