It’s a funny time to be in Portland – literally.
This week more than 100 comedians from all over the country will be in town for the Portland Maine Comedy Festival. More than 20 shows will be held at seven Portland venues Thursday through Sunday.
About half the comedians are local, staging comedy nights at bars and restaurants, while some hit the road and play venues far and wide.
The festival features some well-known national acts, including Maria Bamford, star of the Netflix comedy series “Lady Dynamite.” She’ll do two shows at Port City Music Hall on Saturday. Brooks Wheelan, a former cast member of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” will perform at Empire on Friday.
The festival was started in 2016 – at one venue with a handful of comics – by local comedian and comedy promoter Ian Stuart. Stuart wanted to bring attention to Portland’s comedy scene, which is somewhat under the radar since there’s no dedicated comedy club in town. The city had a comedy club for two decades, the Comedy Connection, but it closed in 2012.
Comedians around Portland say the scope of this year’s festival shows that Stuart is achieving his goal.
“I think the festival has grown because Ian works so hard to put this on,” said Dawn Hartill, 45, of Lewiston, a mother of three who performs at comedy shows around the state. “It’s amazing to see so many comics, so many different types, all performing the same weekend.”
Stuart has organized the performances into several “showcases” that will highlight certain types of comics or certain types of material. There’ll be women’s showcase, a “high show” featuring stoner comedy, some battles where comics compete against each other, and a show of dirty material.
“It started as a celebration of local comedy, to bring some light to how vibrant and strong the scene is,” said Stuart, 33. “I think the growth is just natural, since so many people are into comedy.”
The growth, from a practical standpoint, comes from two things. First, Stuart decided this year to open it up to comedians from outside of Maine who had to apply to participate. Second, the management of the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall decided to book Bamford for shows around the time of the festival.
Besides starring in the semi-autobiographical comedy series “Lady Dynamite” on Netflix, she has been featured in specials on the Comedy Central, has done voice acting and has had recurrent roles on network shows, including the ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat.”
The festival’s other headliner, Brooks Wheelan, was a cast member on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” during the 2013-2014 season. He regularly appeared on SNL’s “Weekend Update” news parody, doing public service announcements against irresponsible behavior. He also did impressions, ranging from Kid Rock to Matthew McConaughey.
Of the many Maine comics performing at the festival, the styles and topics vary widely. Hartill, being the mother of three, said she does a lot of “mom” humor. Last year in the festival, she did a comedy “battle” against a dad comic and won. She said a lot of her jokes were making fun of the Crocs he wore, but she said most of the material was not fit for print.
Mike Johnson, a Portland comic who worked in Chicago for several years, said a lot of his jokes are about his daily life, including his day job at Planet Fitness. He pokes fun of the commercials, which portray Planet Fitness as a low stress gym, where don’t have to be in great shape to work out.
“We are a judgment free zone, we don’t cater to body builders, we don’t let people grunt or scream, we don’t let people drink gallon water jugs,” said Johnson, 34. “Basically, we don’t let people work out.”
When Johnson first started in Maine comedy more than a decade ago, the Comedy Connection was the center of Maine’s scene. When he came back from Chicago in 2014, he was sad to hear it had closed.
But now he feels the comedy scene in Portland is thriving, partly because comics have taken charge and created their own showcases and comedy nights at venues all over town. Just as Stuart took charge and decided the Portland comedy scene needed it’s own festival.
“It’s given people a green light to produce their own rooms,” said Johnson. “You can find a comedy show somewhere five or six nights a week.”
And this weekend, you can find 20 shows in four days.
WHERE: More than 20 shows are at seven Portland venues, including Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St.; Empire, 575 Congress St.; St. Lawrence Arts, 76 Congress St.; Lincolns, 36 Market St.; The Snug, 223 Congress St.; Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave.; and Apohadion Theater, 107 Hanover St.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $5 to $10 for most shows.
INFO: Specific information for shows are on Facebook and Eventbrite.com
Maria Bamford, star of the Neflix comedy series “Lady Dynamite,” will perform at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday at Port City Music Hall. The early show is sold out, tickets for the later show are $35 to $45
Brooks Wheelan, former cast member of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” will perform at Empire Friday at 8 p.m. $15 to $20