“You have to sort of pay your dues in the showcase nights,” she says, noting that “the only way to get good is to do it over and over.”
Where to turn?
Liquid Blue’s Manning says his foray into comedy was “not about making money. This was about creating something that wasn’t there in Portland.”
And even now, a year on, comedy is a “loss leader” — a way to get people into the club who might not otherwise come. Manning’s operating costs include paying the comics, but, he says, the acts do attract new folks to his venue.
Manning and others at venues featuring comedy have found an expanded demographic showing up on laugh nights, which Manning says shows that people in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s “want to come and experience the Old Port” and feel safe doing so. At the same time, Acoustic Coffee made its weekly open-mic night an every-other-week event, in part because stand-up brought in fewer folks than live musicians do, according to Brinegar.
The Comedy Connection is also banking on an expanded draw, with plans to book stand-up comics at neighboring Boone’s Restaurant as part of that venue’s conversion to host corporate and group functions, Ferrell says.
Dan Drouin, owner of Thatcher’s in Westbrook, hopes to have Laugh Your Ass Off comics “at least once a month.” Recent shows have gone “really well” with “a lot of response,” particularly from people who don’t want to go into the Old Port. “It would be great if there were more places” for folks to go for comedy, he says.
Steve Burnette, the new producing director at the Biddeford City Theater, wants to be one of those places. His take, influenced in part by his experience with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, is to have an in-house improvisation and sketch-comedy group who can fill in between theatrical runs and other larger shows. Burnette says he also plans to have local stand-up a couple of nights a year.
Another aspect of the scene will come from Tim Reed, the new booking manager at Asylum, who has a couple of major stand-up comics coming to town — Todd Barry and Nick DiPaolo, who have been on Comedy Central — in April. They’re the kind of comics Reed says he wants to see in person, and will have local openers (Brinegar and Eggbot will open for Barry in early April).
Nellie Coes, who took Ferrell’s class and went straight into this year’s “America’s Funniest Mom” competition, also credits Ferrell’s class and Keithly’s club with generating enough would-be comics to drive the rapid changes in Portland’s comedy scene. And when Coes found out she was one of the 20 semi-finalists in the competition, the Connection gave her some time to perform to prepare. She made it into the top 10, but is forbidden by contest rules from saying how well she did beyond that point.
Coes recognizes the growing scene here, but doesn’t see that much room to grow. It’s hard to get stage time, she knows, but asks rhetorically of those who want it, “Why the fuck would you live here?”