Stumptown Comedy Festival Turns Three

By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly

Portland is a funny city. Any night of the week you can find stand-up comedy, we host a couple great comedy festivals (Bridgetown and All Jane), and we’ve sent a fair number of our own comics off to bigger and better scenes. But stand-up isn’t the only gig in town; there’s a growing improv scene here in Portland. It’s grown so much so that the Stumptown Improv Festival is celebrating its third year. The festival brings in the some of the best improv groups from Portland and around the country (and Canada) for some seriously funny times.

But TJ, you may ask, what is improv comedy and why haven’t I heard about it?

Good question hypothetical reader. The simple answer is that it’s comedy improvised live on stage. But it has many versions, from short-form games to intricate long-form narratives to stylized parodies. Often building on audience suggestions, it’s impressive to watch and you’ll never see the same show twice. As for why you haven’t heard of it, I’m not sure. Portland actually has a few theaters dedicated to improv such as Brody Theater and Curious Comedy. I guess you just aren’t really into humor.

I’m excited to see some improv this weekend, so I sent an email to Erin O’Regan, one of the founders of the festival and one of the funniest women in our community, so we could all learn a little more about her and the festival.

PQ: How did you get into improv and what do you love about it?

I’ve always been a little weird and eager to get people to smile, for years I worked at The Alibi, a rowdy, tiki-themed, kick-ass karaoke bar on N. Interstate. I was thrilled to resign from working late nights and wrangling drunks but I knew I would miss the performance aspects of the gig. I signed up for an improv class at Curious Comedy Theater and instantly fell in love. Following my time with Curious, I worked with The Brody Theater on their house team and continued to take classes through The Liberators training center. I’ve been in a few groups here and there and continue to perform at The Siren Theater.

I loved (and still love) the surprise of improv- how the people on stage and the audience are both just as excited to see things unfold in an entertaining way. I love the challenge of connecting things that sometimes may not want to connect. Of course I love the gratification of a hearty laugh from the audience and a ridiculous memory of a character or scene created on stage.

I also enjoy the community of improv (ugh, I can’t believe I just used the C word). I don’t have much experience outside of the Portland comedy scene, but I do know that the outpouring of love and support for fellow improvisers is exceptional. Trust me, if you need help moving, just ask a group of improvers- It might take three days of emails to get the date scheduled, but in the end, not much will get done and everyone will have a good time.

PQ: What prompted the creation of the festival?

I met Jed (Arkley, fellow co-founder) through improv. I loved his twitchy yet vaguely sophisticated style. He was funny to watch on stage and off and oddly easy to trust. He called me one afternoon while he was driving back from Washington with the idea of creating a festival. I honestly did not think he was serious or sober, but he followed through. It took three days worth of emails to make a meeting date and things started to happen. It was then that the three-headed beast of festival production was birthed. Leon (Anderson, other co-founder), Jed and myself have had our ins and outs as co-producers but have certainly found a balance of work fun and family in the last three years. I couldn’t do any of this without them, and wholeheartedly know they couldn’t do it without me either. It’s called teamwork. Look it up in a book.

PQ: What would you say to someone who has never been to Stumptown who wants to check out this ‘improv’ thing?

If you have a sense of humor and a sense of comedic process, you will love the festival. I hope this festival is a venue for people to not just support comedy, but support the arts as a whole in Portland.

The Stuptown Improv Festival is Aug 4-6 at Artists Repertory Theater. Tickets are available on their website.