Contributing Editor, Kathleen Dolan
American Comedy is a free monthly showcase, currently running at Holocene, curated and hosted by Jason Traeger, Milan Patel, and Paul Schlesinger, featuring a mostly local line-up. It was started almost a year ago by Paul at the now defunct Kickstand Comedy (basement in Velo Cult Bike Shop). He soon brought in Milan and they co-hosted the series for several months. After moving to Holocene, Jason joined the band to come forth as a new power trio of comedy.
After lackluster turnout for a few months, this Sunday the room was packed, guaranteeing them more runs at Holocene. It was refreshing to see the dim dance club atmosphere of Holocene become so cozy with chairs and tables, like an old night club. It works out well as they block off the back of the house, where the main stage is, reserving it to comics and press. We were there for pictures and this review. I had to use the full extension of my camera lens, but it worked.
It was marketed as “Andy Kaufman Tribute Night” featuring character-driven comedians, like Philip Schallberger, and Christian Ricketts with Tim Ledwith. Paul’s former Comedy is OK collaborator and close friend, Andrew Michaan, came up from LA with a handful of other northwest shows. Everyone on the bill last Sunday were esteemed and accomplished members of the Portland scene.
All the sets in photos.
Jason and Milan begin to talk about their 2016 plans in the show’s opening, which involve them leaving town. Paul’s reaction is at the center of a plot line that reveals itself at the end of the night. Paul doesn’t want them to go, and he’ll do anything to keep them together.
Below, you see Milan behind Milan in a video where he is allegedly caught masturbating to a lease agreement — but it was actually a release form. Paul had them all donate sperm under the false pretense of applying for an apartment together, but it turned out they had signed away their sperm and Paul had a surrogate baby that he wanted all of them to father. See? He would do anything.
Jason Traeger kicked off the stand-up portion of the show, the first of seven comedians. His set offered that certain mix of intellectualism, visual artistry, and purely maniacal psychedelic drug inspiration that only Traeger can provide. Below, I caught him describing wrathful deities and multi-dimensional snakes. Without jokes, he can prolong bits that keep the laughter rolling, simply because he keeps visualizing in tremendous detail. Like Jonathan Winters, he is also fine painter, so with comedy, he has a gift for detailing his wild imagination with words and faces.
You cannot name a connection in the local comedy scene without passing through Bri Pruett. Her voice is honest being quite naturally herself, as someone with funny challenges in life. “I’m starving. Oh my god I’m so starving!” she exclaims, imitating skinny women she works with. And when they eat, they’re like, “I’m full. Oh my god I’m so full!” The repetition is infectious: rolling laughter. At the end, she offered a nod to Kaufman with a perfect prat fall and played it off like it wasn’t rehearsed.
Milan Patel is pretty deadpan. I ran into him at a friends house last night and told him I was finishing this review today and he said, “please don’t.” He is challenged by the silent, non-laughing hipster audience that Holocene especially draws. But it wasn’t a problem, he got laughs as awkward as his onstage presence is — the hipster crowd either really relates, or really wants to. This picture demonstrates the tone of his work.
Rocket Jackson, a character devised by Philip Schallberger, is a loose cannon Hollywood catch-all, from stunt man to reiki master. He moved so fast I couldn’t snap a crisp picture of him. Phil can do straight stand-up, but I always liked his way of committing to the character, half-improvised. On Sunday, Rocket was there to offer tips on professionalism on a film set, like the importance of a first impression. The handshake he advised was a series of confusing moves, looking more like an awkward dance that would literally twist someone’s arm. He is probably the most commonly compared local comic to Kaufman, and deservedly so.
Paul Schlesinger sang a song called “I Don’t Fuck With Feelings About Feelings.” One thing about his humor is that people don’t know when it’s a joke, sometimes. He preys on that. Let people chuckle themselves out of confusion. He is a comedian of ideas, not punchlines. The song was pretty well constructed, too, though I was busy with pictures.
Christian Ricketts is one of my favorites, because like Phil, he can show up to an open mic costumed and in character and take down the house. When he kills, he really kills. His advertised comedy partner, Tim Ledwith was a no show and often these changes go unannounced because the comedy still flows, which it did with Christian’s idea-centric and slightly jaded straight stand-up.
Nathan Brannon, one of the most likable comics in town, thought the audience was against him. Not really. The laughs were intermittent as the audience wasn’t sure how to take his soft spoken vengeance. He tells a story about how the cover to his forthcoming comedy album on Kill Rock Stars came about. Long story short, the cover depicts breastfeeding and spilled coffee, because a woman hassled his wife for publicly breast-feeding, and Nathan’s reaction was decisively ridiculous.
With only one comic to go, all three hosts rejoined to finish their sketch. Paul runs out to pick up the baby from an Uber waiting outside, returning in a diaper. There was no real baby, he never did the surrogate parenthood thing, yet he still collected their sperm and put up the farce. His friends forgave him, trusting that he did it to bring them closer together. It looks like the comedy troupe is staying together after all.
Andrew Michaan softly killed. It was more like he was the person you hung out with on the way home from the comedy show. He earned everyone’s trust. He also dealt with a heckler really well. He didn’t shame the person or say something ruthless: He actually told them clearly that they were rude without getting upset.
My favorite joke of his for the night was true hearsay. On a bus, he overhead a conversation that he said was a great example of someone being a prisoner to the socioeconomic web of thought. A woman on the bus said, “boy if I only had a money tree in the backyard….” A man replied, “imagine if you could grow more money trees and sell them….” Andrew illustrated just how stuck this guy that he would invent for himself a new job of cultivating and maintaining money trees.
And then I went home.