Last October the Comedy Connection, for nearly twenty years the nexus of Maine comedy, closed. It's the club where Bob Marley, arguably Maine's most successful comedian, got his start. The immediate reason was a failed health inspection, but the owner, Oliver Keithly, also cited the economic downturn.
The closure cut the number of full-time comedy clubs in town from one to zero, which seems like it ought to have had a drastic impact on the local scene. It hasn't. "Comedy goes through cycles," says Tim Ferrell, the guru of Maine comedy if there is one. A workshop he teaches in Portland has fast-tracked local wannabes including Karen Morgan and Ian Harvie toward the big, or at least the medium-sized, time. Ferrell continues, "I think comedy, especially live comedy, if it's done right, becomes perpetual motion."
There is still a lot going on. Clubs are only one of many outlets for comedic talent. The post-Connection Maine comedy landscape features an established generation of local luminaries working other avenues, a new generation of young talents determined to find a way, and the rumor of plans for a new club in downtown Portland.
Ways to do comedy without a club include the theater circuit and corporate comedy, both areas where Karen Morgan has found success. Originally from the south, Morgan is a trial attorney who stopped practicing law to raise babies. When she enrolled in Ferrell's class in 2004 she was just looking for a way to get out of the house one night a week, but she quickly fell in love with the process of writing comedy. She took the class a second time, then entered the Portland's Funniest Professional competition at the Connection, reaching the finals. At the same time Nick at Nite was looking for America's Funniest Mom, and Ferrell submitted her graduation tape. She was selected to compete, eventually making it to the final seven out of more than a thousand entrants.
That could perhaps have been the start of a meteoric career, but Morgan isn't interested in the endless road hours that would entail, or a move to Los Angeles. Family comes first, she says, and she just works when she wants, booking into theaters rather than clubs. She also gets corporate work when she wants it, she says, because of her legal background. "People can hire me; they know that I'm not going to stand up there and do blowjob jokes in the middle of their wellness seminar."
A FACE OF EXPERIENCE Longtime Southern Maine comedian Tim Hofmann on stage at Slainte.
Another on-going strain of comedy in Maine is benefit work. George Hamm has toured with Bob Marley and shows up consistently on other Maine comics' lists of comics they like. Hamm drives a cab part-time while he puts together a show here and there. Recent gigs included a benefit at the Freeport Performing Arts Center, raising money to send middle-schoolers to Space Camp. Hamm hosted and pulled in some cronies to be the acts, giving them the challenge of toning down their X-rated material and purging their profanity for a room full of 15-year-olds.