By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Pool halls are generally serious joints where cue-heads can sharpen their game, but Sam’s Billiards in Hollywood, 1845 NE 41st Ave., one of the last genuine pool halls in Portland, has added a new twist, namely Comedy League Night. On the first Monday evening of each month, enter Sam’s and go upstairs to hear home-grown, free-range comics deliver their best new material.
Comedy League Night is the brainchild of Tony C, a Portland native who prefers not to use his last name because “I don’t want any ex-girlfriends showing up asking for their cast iron back.” According to Tony, Portland has a burgeoning stand-up comedy scene that is one of the best in the nation.
“In Portland, comics have good access to mike time,” said Tony. “But a lot of open mike opportunities have only comics in the audience. So from the comedian’s perspective, it’s hard to get a read on what works and what doesn’t. From the audience perspective, it’s a tough sell, because there are so many comics who want time on stage. I wanted to create a show that would appeal to comedy fans with a good, tight program.”
Tony started Comedy League Night in November. He typically invites six to eight comics for the show, which runs from 60 to 90 minutes, starting at 8 pm. He finds the talent by participating in open mikes around the city every night of the week. He reckons that there are at least five hundred people in the City of Roses who call themselves comics, but only a hundred or so actually perform at some level.
“These comics are working hard,” Tony said. “I see them at other comedy venues. We all know each other. I try to book each show with some comics who are the best of the best and mix in some new faces.”
Besides the curated nature of the show, the other unique aspect of Comedy League Night is that it features new material.
“It is difficult to premiere a set and have it work well,” added Tony. “The comics have worked on it in private before they bring it here. When you do it for the first time and it works, it’s really magical. There are probably only a few other cities that could support an all-new material show.”
The Comedy League Night show on January 2 began late, giving the small crowd plenty of time to order drinks from the bar downstairs or sample one of the items on the menu specially created for the event. A guitar and drum duo called the Ginger Roots kept a steady thrum of gentle music going until things got started. The stage, though small, had enough room for each comedian to move around comfortably. The otherwise bare set held a large replica of a cube of pool cue chalk, bracketed by dark green curtains.
All of the performers used the microphone, and if they needed to fall back on an old joke or routine, they were obligated to touch the mechanical bridge (a pool accessory for difficult shots), also called the “grannystick.”
Tony emceed the show, opening with a funny story about how his car was recently towed. He introduced each of the featured comics skillfully: Seth Johnston, Daniel Marten Austin, Chris Ettrick, Kyle Adams, Dylan Jenkins, Susan Rice, and Andie Main. Each comic got five to ten minutes on stage.
Luckily, Sam’s Billiards is a 21 and older joint, because some of the comics’ language was rather raw. Just about any topic was up for grabs, and the humor was not necessarily in good taste. Laughter was rippling through the audience regardless, and if you didn’t care for one series of jokes, you only had to wait a few minutes to hear a new comic and a new set.
Dylan Jenkins may have delivered the best line of the night. Recalling a time when he shared a house with some underemployed roommates, he observed: “Now if I go into a home and hear the Grateful Dead, I know that someone is not paying the water bill.”
Speaking of money, Tony made sure to pass the hat to support the comics financially. The show on February 6 included Curtis Cook , Amanda Arnold, JoAnn Schinderle, Sean Connery, Jacob Christoper, Tim Ledwith and Jeremiah Coughlan. The March 6 show is slated to include appearances by Don Frost, Caitlin Weierhauser, Whitney Streed, Philip Schallberger and Christian Ricketts. For more information, sign up for the newsletter at comedyleaguenight.com.