In a sea of bar venues, former bathhouses, people’s apartments, and other such comedy places, the Portland Comedy scene has had ups and downs when it comes to creating the ideal performance space. If people conglomerated around a specific place it was more because of the momentum comedy had built around it, and not necessarily because it was “the perfect venue for comedy”. Whitney Streed’s “The Weekly Recurring Humor Night” was one such show where for a while every Wednesday you could watch the current happenings of the scene present themselves at the now defunct Tonic Lounge. Additionally, the Tuesday night mic at The Funhouse Lounge became the glue of the open mic scene for a time. It sounds stupid an schmaltzy but at their peak these places were the driving force behind comedy in Portland, OR.
These places were great Sisyphean efforts. Nobody doubts the effect they had on Portland Comedy, but with any space not specifically dedicated to comedy you’re sort of always fighting an uphill battle to not be blown away. Whether it’s loud bar goers, bachelorette parties, or just a creepy dude who insists on sitting in the clown room at Funhouse and looking at all the women weird, it’s hard to have an independent space dedicated to growing local comedy that's also not a financial nightmare.
This is why Kickstand was so cool when it first happened.
The Kickstand Comedy Space was a project initially spearheaded by Dylan Reiff, Dan Weber, and Nick Baird. You just find a venue in the Hollywood District that is in fact a bike shop, discover that it has a perfect basement space that’s an amazing blackbox theater, and then program comedy to happen four nights a week. It was a glorious idea and something truly exciting. I can specifically remember getting invigorated by the concept of an indie space where people could try new show ideas, and in time build an audience that would eventually allow them to outgrow the space.
Kickstand had very real plans to grow and get bigger, but this all ground to a halt early last spring when the fire marshall put a kibosh on everything. However after some regrouping things are finally starting up again in Kickstand’s brand new space in downtown. I spoke with Dylan about this at the bagel place I eat at nearly everyday I don't have to go to work. We started off speaking about the weird alchemy that goes into place when it comes to getting people to watch your show.
Dylan: I always wonder what's the best way or place or what have you to get audience members.
Danny: I don't know, it seems like if it were easy everyone would do it. It's like a combo of 5 or 6 things and one of those things is maybe a consistent social media presence but maybe you also put up some fliers? And then there's promotional websites like PDX Pipeline and stuff. And also being a fun person.
Dylan: These are all factors that are in my opinion support factors that can really help. I still think though the primary factor is a consistently good show. All that stuff is great but we either see people who are better at the second part and generally speaking fantastic producers are less common. In Portland I can count them on one hand.
And they're not always the people who make the most consistent shows. But, they do get people to come to them. That can be a double edged sword but the marriage of product that's great and all that previous stuff is rare. It's hard to do that on your own.
Also press sponsorship is fantastic. Whether it's the WW or The Mercury it's the cheapest, easiest way to take a great show and partner with a media sponsor that can let people know when it's happening.
Danny: Those sources keep the public informed.
Dylan: Yeah! Plus, people aren't losing money that way. The only money that's spent is giving free ad space away.
Danny: Plus those weeklies don't always need to be put on a pedestal all the time. We help them the way they help us. It's very symbiotic.
Dylan: One if my big goals with the stuff I'm working on now is mutually beneficial relationships with sponsors that will get the word out to audiences. Like, I'm creating content that "Portland Weekly X" can put on their website as their own, but it's also clearly bring people to my shows and my stuff. It's giving me the kick in the pants the get video content done and out there.
Not only are you getting projects done but you're also getting eyes on it, and it's linking back to your bread and butter. That's the kind of stuff that I think if you're great comedy right now there's no reason to work towards getting more people seeing it.
Danny: it's basically the Portland ideal. It's why people move here: It can be overwhelming in LA or NYC especially when it comes to curating a following for something. Here there's also the back and forth of people being greater homebodies. People definitely go out here, but a case can be made that they don't go out as much as a Chicago or NYC does. You gotta stir people to get them excited.
Dylan: And you have to be aware of who you're stirring. Like in Chicago if you're going to 10 open mics a week and you're just doing the same material in front of comics than at what point are you getting more confident in your material or only hearing how comedians are reacting? Figuring out when it's beneficial to go out/stay home and write is an interesting question.
I think in Portland, we're more relaxed for sure. In other cities I see people burn out and work material and honestly get really paranoid. They don't have a real litmus test for whether it's good or not because the material never gets a platform to get in front of a larger audience because of the saturation. Here we have audiences and lots of shows early in your career.
Danny: Did all that stuff affect the decision to start Kickstand?
Dylan: Oh yeah. I didn't really see a space like it in Portland. For improv it's essential to get up as much as you can and do as many scenes as you can and especially with long form. Because we're all going to suck for such a long time it's essential to have a space where it's safe to practice and work toward developing into something great. Having a 40-50 seat place creates an intimacy that's necessary and while we do have venues like that none of them are comedy exclusive.
It's great to have a space where you can have ideas, try them out, and learn how to produce and develop a show that is good enough for a 200 seat theater.
Danny: It's just the best when something starts and people really glom onto it. The concept of outgrowing a space is so cool. Like, "Oh man! We did it!".
Dylan: With original shows that's the absolute goal for us. We really hope that every show that's there outgrows the space. That's awesome and if we're doing our job and if the community is interested, that means it's sort of like a farm system for creating fun shows. It's a place where there's no real risk. Do an idea! Maybe you do it again, maybe not. We want to support our community partner The Siren Theater by selling drinks and using portions of donations to developing the space and making it worth their while to keep us there, but they're being intensely generous because they want to see more comedy.
Danny: That is another thing you touched on when we talked before. It's not just Kickstand, the downstairs theater as well which is the 200 seat theater.
Dylan: Yeah! Lez Stand Up just moved down to the Siren Theater which is downstairs and they sold out and had an amazing fun show. They're a perfect example of a show that started, built their audience, kept getting better, and now has a rotating cast of really strong comics. And that audience knows they're going to show that's a certain quality they're going to enjoy. They built that audience really, really smart.
Danny: It's like a benevolent comedic fracking. It's not enough to just root around for oil, you have to find the specific spaces and people who like what you're making.
Dylan: And care about it! They all care about that show and the content and quality and that's a big deal. We have a lot of shows in Portland where the end result is, "Okay, we did it.", and that's that. There just won't be a secondary goal. It's not being used to make you better or challenge anything.
Danny: It just exists.
Dylan: Exactly. And trust me stage time is awesome but we have so much stage already. We really do and I just love seeing people who are trying to create and build something. And by virtue of it being their brain and their lens and their personality or whatever that special sauce is they create a really fun unique show.
Danny: There's something very intoxicating and cool when you realize what you've created is officially a "thing". We all remember Whitney's show and when it really started gaining steam. The first year of it though could go either way. It could be great or it could be a regular show. Then this moment happened where everything just synthesized and it was almost exclusively great.
Dylan: Whitney is absolutely on that short list of really great producers in this town. Whitney is also someone who cares about the quality and content of comedy. It's just clear. The shows Whitney puts on are always interesting. I think Rants Off Dance Off is awesome. It's such a fun show and it's a unique way to explore and have fun and also something I've never seen before.
(by the way Rants Off Dance Off is a show Whitney Streed runs where the comics have to do their regular material and then they have to dance. It's very goofy and very fun)
And Earthquake Hurricane is another show that's a four headed host show and it could be a lot of things but how they developed it made it fun. You get to be part of the inside jokes and part of the party if you come week to week. You get to hear about Alex Falcone's app game progress and various through lines they're all going through; all the hot takes of the week. Where is Curtis currently, how's Anthony's new weed job, Bri's numbers game regarding who she's slept with and their astrological signs.
I just think there's so much talent here and I selfishly wanted a place with Kickstand where I could be doing improv I wanted to be doing, and I knew there were people that wanted to get better faster and there's no real way to do that with improv other than by getting reps in. We just wanted a comedy gym idea.
Danny: Something that I'm sure was surprising was just the sheer logistics that go into the planning. Especially with the original space. The whole fire marshall thing was insane. The whole scene as an entity was just like, "Nooooooooo!" when the kerfuffle started.
Dylan: It was a bummer. It took us 6 months to find that space when we were originally looking and ultimately it was too good to be true. It was right next to my house. I could roll out of bed if there was an emergency which meant that I could delegate things to people. Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a bummer but it's not like anyone was trying to harsh our mellow.
Danny: You know, the only person who's trying to harsh your mellow is the fire marshall and it's basically his job to harsh everyones mellow.
Dylan: Exactly! It's for our own good! We don't want to be on fire. Burning to death in a basement surrounded by bikes sounds like the worst death.
Danny: The whole situation also highlights the weird state we're in as far as venues go. It's not like there aren't any, but it really feels like panning for gold sometimes. There's not a lot, and there's not enough for everyone.
Dylan: And so many venues have been burned. Someone scorches that earth and now nobody can do comedy there anymore. Maybe it was good for a time but currently lots of bars and restaurants have relationships with comedy and they have an impression of what relationships can be. I think at the end of the day they're still looking to see if you're making money for them. Kickstand is definitely a space where that's not a driving factor.
Danny: In this case it doesn't need to be.
Dylan: And you know I do want to see lines in front of the venue. I don't want it to be the "least attended most undiscovered comedy venue!". Really, I want the arts scene, college kids, high school kids; people who are just fans to find comedians they are now fans of.
Danny: It would be funny if y'all just started getting a bunch of teenagers in crowds.
Dylan: We're definitely working on targeting high schools. I mean, getting the place up and running where I don't have to be there all the time is my first priority, but after that I've been slowly working on reaching out to high schools and colleges and letting them know there is an all ages venue where you can see comedy three nights a week. Bring your friends, and have some chips and soda.
I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, MN and I don't know what it was necessarily like other places but there were so few things I could do when I was younger.
Danny: It is very strange having access to a car as a 16 year old and then not really having any options on where to go.
Dylan: There's just not things you can do. Also, comedy is kind of cool again. Kids who are like 15 are listening to super inside baseball comedy podcasts all day and I think there's a space for it. When I was in Chicago, IL I worked with this theater company called the neo-futurists and a lot of kids who grew up in suburbs or even in Chicago proper experienced them as their first theater experience that they could see alone. It's kind of experimental, some of it's really funny, and a kid in high school would see it and realize, "Holy shit, I've never seen anything like this where this is so funny and I have to bring my friends every week.".
They remember it fondly when they're adults and it seeds this legacy of fans. Generations can say they're older brother told them to check it out and we don't expect to be that grandiose, but there's something to be said about people who are true fans of things.
Danny: I think when it comes to developing comedy many comedians are sort of child averse/phobic. I know I've definitely been like, "I hate kids" many times. That said, nothing about me wants to ostracize potentially awkward 15 year olds who don't know who they are yet. Like, I don't give a fuck about small children but I would love to have a positive impact on a teenager's life who maybe doesn't know what to do yet.
Dylan: And you know I'm not trying to cultivate a teenager daycare or whatever but it is an under serviced resource. Between that and everything else it's just crazy to me that the arts scene for as DIY and punk as comedy is there's just very little cross over. There's people are trying to tap into it, but there's just no central space for it yet and I would love for that to be us.
We're in the most DIY space you can find and we're going to continue working on making it better, but we'd just want people who are looking for something fun to check out Kickstand. We want people to know that the reputation for the space is, "You don't necessarily know what you're going to see, but it's something that's interesting and cool every night that it's open.". Certain shows are going to have their own followings but when you show up at that venue you know you're going to have a fun time and that's a place where that happens.
Danny: Continuing that developmental stage. What are some shows that you're excited about that are developing?
Dylan: A lot of stuff right now actually. We're still getting back to full strength and there are some holes in our programming and something that's important to me is that many different voices are represented overall. I mean right now it's just me, Dan Weber, and Garret so if anyone else is trying to get involved than we're excited about that.
That said, Mondays we have an early slot that we're consulting with Lez Stand Up about. They may bring back their open mic/storytelling show. Then there's a podcast block that's open for podcasts that don't have a place to record. You can come in, you have a volunteer podcast tech, and they'll help you record your podcast. The education to the community isn't necessarily there yet so we want people to know it exists. After that at 10PM we have Reading The Bible With Dan. Super fun crowd and a super fun show. I could listen to Dan and Nariko do that for a long time. After that we have Dan's Comedy Write Now mic which does start at 11PM and that rounds out Mondays.
Tuesdays are the big improv day, which I actually haven't mentioned too much yet but our improv scene has gotten so much better in the last couple of years. People are playing with different theaters now, it's no longer as separate as it was even two years ago and people are getting a lot better faster. Plus, we've had an influx in talented and experienced improvisers coming back to Portland or coming here for the first time. So, I'm really excited about improv right now.
Right now I think we're approaching the saturation point where people are going to be real fans of teams outside of the big improv teams in town. This is the year I think that's going to happen.
Danny: That's so cool. I mean, I feel like such a civilian when it comes to improv because I have no context for it other than a couple groups I've heard of.
Dylan: Well, as a community we're working pretty hard and I'm really proud and excited of the work we're doing at Kickstand and the space. I mean if you're working your ass off at improv that means you're doing a class on Monday, you're coming to Kickstand on Tuesday, and you got Open Court at Curious Comedy on Thursday. That's two jams, a class, and probably an independent rehearsal with your team. You can be doing improv every day. That has never even been available to people in Portland and now you can do as much improv as you can go to open mics. The quality of teaching has also dramatically improved as well.
Danny: That's so good to hear. So that's Tuesdays and what's up Wednesdays?
Dylan: Wednesdays are now you submit a show through the Kickstand website. Also, if there's people that I've seen or know I want to give priority to them. For people I don't know everyone is still getting a shot overall. It's just about calendaring so that there are consistent nights that balance out. So we might have a person who's produced a lot of shows go up first as a strong anchor, and then give people a shot to try out new ideas. If I put 3 completely untested things on the same night I feel like it's not as strong as when I put something consistent with something following it.
Danny: It's a potential question mark.
Dylan: Exactly. Plus I can feed that first audience to the newer show. So to summarize we have an early slot at 8PM, then a 9:30PM slot, and depending on interest a late slot. Basically we're just going to grow at the rate of interest. If people are really interested in producing a bunch of shows we have the potential to expand to a fourth day. We have wiggle room, but I need to see how interested people are first.
Danny: Monday through Wednesday is a very good start I think.
Dylan: It seems manageable and I honestly can't think about doing four nights yet because I feel like I'd need to be there for the first couple of months. We definitely want to build our volunteer base back up. That's a key thing. The idea is we'd love to have a big enough pool that we're sending out one email a week and asking people what days they'd like to do stuff and for what position.
Danny: Well I'm excited and it seems like you guys have everything mapped out and I'm only pumped to see where everything goes.
Dylan: I just want to see more shows. The shows that are happening right now I'm super excited about.
Danny: Let's see how it goes!
There's so much happening at Kickstand all the time and you should definitely be privy to it. For real. Check out their website here for deets and showtimes.