Standing up

By JEFF INGLIS  |  March 29, 2006

It took a bigger commitment back then, agrees Quinn Collins of Falmouth, who has been moonlighting doing stand-up for 10 years, while practicing law. “I didn’t think anything of driving two or three hours for a five- or 10-minute show,” says Collins, who once drove more than five hours to Poughkeepsie, New York, for a 20-minute bit, then turned around and drove back.

Marley and Collins — and Ferrell and Comedy Connection owner Oliver Keithly — agree that comedy is “an endurance contest.” As Collins puts it: the people who are good get better, and the people who are not fall away.

These days, the barrier is lower for the newcomers. Novice comic Seth Perry holds down a day job and performs on nights and weekends. Brian Brinegar, a motivated and energetic young father who recently moved to Maine from California, does the same. Tammy Pooler, one of the ringleaders of the comedy expansion in the city, is a mother, and runs a retail store and the Laugh Your Ass Off Productions comedy-booking agency, in addition to performing stand-up herself. (See  “Comic Economics” ).

These are not folks who have to give up their regular lives to pursue their passions, though all say they are prepared to. “I’m either going to make it big or I’m not,” says Perry fatalistically. Brinegar, meanwhile, insists he will one day soon be on Premium Blend, the Comedy Central television network’s showcase night that boosts mid-level comics into the limelight.

Keithly, who has booked comedy for more than 20 years (see “What’s the Connection?,” below), says he has been working since his club opened on Wharf Street about 12 years ago to “have a strong community” of comedians and comedy audiences in Portland.

Now, “it’s the type of atmosphere that I always wanted to have,” he says. Through the class and in dealings with local comedians who perform on showcase nights (see “Comedy Lingo,” below), Keithly says he is “trying to create an environment . . . where people can learn the art-form the way that it’s been taught for years” — namely, by watching other comics work, constantly developing new material, and trying it out. Keithly is looking for “people who are serious, who have a serious passion for the art form,” which he estimates at about four percent of the graduates of Ferrell’s class.

By contrast, Ferrell estimates that more than 80 percent want the class to “lead to something else” in show business. And that 76-percent difference may be one of the reasons behind the sudden expansion of Portland’s scene.

In the middle
With Keithly believing that one in 25 graduates is serious enough to make it, and Ferrell saying four out of five want to make it, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. (See “Banned?” ).

Pooler, for example, says she got frustrated with performing only about five minutes a month at the Connection. “There’s way too many comics that want stage time” to be satisfied with just the Connection, she says. “When you’re a comic, you just thrive on having a stage.”

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Banned? By Jeff Inglis.
Comic Economics. By Jeff Inglis.

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