Beloved by audiences and comedians alike—what, you haven't heard the “summer camp for comedians” line before?—the Bridgetown Comedy Festival has become an annual Portland stalwart since its scrappy start in 2008. As the 10th iteration kicks off next week, festival cofounder and producer Andy Wood says it might be time to end the laughs.
Wood, who started the festival with comedian Matt Braunger and comedy fan Kimberly Brady, says there’s a pretty good chance this will be its last year. “It’s been 10 years, and sometimes it’s nice to just put a bow on something and say that was great, that was a period, it’s coming to a close,” he says. “It’s pending the outcome of this year’s festival, but a decade is a long time to do something.”
Wood, an engineer-turned-comic who currently cohosts the Probably Science podcast, says he started the whole endeavor because he wanted to see good comedy in the town where he lived. “I just wanted to see it as a fan,” he says. “I never thought it would be a thing that would become a job. It just took off and it was life-changing and super exciting.”
The first year boasted some 50 comedians, says Wood. This year, expect over 100. That said, Wood (now based in LA), says it’s getting hard to sustain a festival that leans heavily on his friends in the comedy world. “If the cost you pay is also a social one in terms of your peers who are comics you're asking these favors from, I don’t love that being a long-term business plan,” he says. “I don’t want to get a reputation as someone who’s trying to get people for cheap, but you can’t have 150 people and pay them each $3,500 for the weekend."
Over the years, the festival has attracted big names, kicking off the first year with Patton Oswalt—“he brought in half of the entire festival revenue”— who returns in 2017 as a festival bonus. “Lots of people were here before they were household names,” he says, adding that many of them have gone on to Amy Schumer strata of fame, “including Amy Schumer.”
At this year's festival, running May 4–7 at venues across Portland, Wood is excited to have Oswalt return, and to see a few festival newbies, including Eugene Mirman, a.k.a. the voice of Gene Belcher on Bob’s Burgers. Several Bridgetown regulars are returning, among them Janeane Garofalo, Karen Gilgariff, and former Portlanders like Braunger and Ian Karmel.
So what would guarantee a continuation of the festival we’ve come to know and love? “A huge success in terms of the biggest year yet crowd-wise, and if some other things come together in terms of partnerships we’re exploring,” says Wood. "But it’s a tough business."
A huge success? “If there were 150,00 people that would be yeah, how could we say no?”
Portland, you’ve got your marching orders.
Thur–Sun, May 4–7, venues and prices vary