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Now 10, popular festival might be done in by rising expenses

COURTESY: BRIDGETOWN COMEDY FESTIVAL - Portland's Ian Karmel returns to perform in the Bridgetown Comedy Festival.Portland's beloved Bridgetown Comedy festival is celebrating its 10th birthday this year.

But, organizers warn, it could be its last.

"It's possible we might call it a day after this," says Andy Wood, festival co-founder and producer. "Ten years is a round number."

Nonetheless, this year is an exciting one for the May 4-7 festival, as they bring back favorites, including actor Patton Oswalt. Oswalt performed at the launch of Bridgetown in 2008, and this year will be playing a special pre-festival show at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Other top acts include Portland's own Ian Karmel, who is a writer on CBS' "The Late Show with James Corden," and was a writer and guest on E!'s "Chelsea Lately."

Janeane Garofalo is returning as well, known for her roles in "Wet Hot American Summer," "Ratatoullie" and "The Truth About Cats and Dogs."

COURTESY: BRIDGETOWN COMEDY FESTIVAL - JONAH RAYAnd there's Jonah Ray, who's starring in the reboot of the cult classic "Mystery Science Theater 3000," which debuted on Netflix this month. Oswalt also performs on the reboot; he's well known these days for his voice-over work on "The Goldbergs."

With that exciting of a lineup, why might they throw in the towel?

Wood and co-founder and comedian Matt Braunger say it's getting difficult to make the festival work financially. Portland's changing, they say, and expenses are rising.

Additionally, comedians — or more often their more-demanding agents — are asking for more money that they just can't always afford to pay out.

"If there's a way we can make it more cost effective for everyone involved, then great. I would hate to see it end, but, at the same time, finishing at 10 years strong is pretty amazing," Braunger says.

He laughs that it's not a rumor to get people to buy tickets.

"I think the expectation has gotten huge," Wood says. "It was fun to fly under the radar for the first few years. (Fans) knew it was great, but it was still an open secret, now it's not. It's become a job and a real thing."

The comedy experience is, in some ways, less "raw" than it used to be, says Bridgetown co-executive producer Rylee Newton. COURTESY: NASHCO PHOTOGRAPHY - MATT BRAUNGEROrganizers have to deal with more middlemen, agents and managers who oftentimes are on different pages than their comedic clients.

But it wasn't always that way.

When it started out, there weren't many other comedy-specific festivals elsewhere, or much of a scene in Portland at all. Everyone was flying by the seat of their pants.

"It sounded like a crazy thing, but it's like, why not? I think some of the best ideas come from something that seems completely bananas," Braunger says.

Braunger was raised in Northeast Portland, but now lives in Los Angeles. He's known for roles on ABC's "Agent Carter" and NBC's "Up All Night," and has had appearances on "BoJack Horseman," "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" and many others.

This year he's played seven clubs in seven cities, and recently sold a project to Netflix.

He'll perform five shows for the festival, including shows at the Paris Theatre on May 5-6 as part of the taping of his special, called "Right Meow." The show at the Paris Theatre will cost $5, and all of the proceeds will go to the festival.

COURTESY PHOTO - ANDY WOODWood, on the other hand, has appeared on the Science Channel's "How To Build Everything" and the most recent season of "Portlandia."

He runs the podcast called "Probably Science," for which he will emcee an episode at the Bossanova Ballroom as part of the fest.

Braunger does see a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. He's noticed that the demand for big dollars is calming down a bit.

"I think some people are getting into their heads that we're not going to pay that much. That's how the festival is going to survive," he says.

He says that after last year, they learned a lesson — that they will hit an undisclosed price point to pay for comedians. They weren't sure who'd they'd be able to get when they decided to implement a price point, but were pleasantly surprised.

"We got awesome people," Braunger says.

They just don't want to go the way of surviving by big, corporate sponsorship. "We should call Texaco. Let's involve big oil," Braunger joked.

They've been happy to have inspired the careers of several comics, some of whom are returning to the festival this year, such as Ray, who performed at the first festival.

"To see him (Ray) thriving and being at the center of this comedy thing ... his life is blowing up," says Newton. She lived in Los Angeles for 10 years and later moved to Portland. She met Wood in 2007 and opened for Oswalt at the first Bridgetown Comedy Festival the following year.

COURTESY: BRIDGETOWN COMEDY FESTIVAL - MARCELLA ARGUELLO"We put together a couple of shows that we haven't done before, that are retrospective — people from 2008. On some level, (the festival) is just a well-oiled machine," Newton says. She calls Bridgetown Comedy an "eye opening experience."

"I'm really proud of it," Braunger says. "I think we paved the way for a lot of grassroots festivals on all kinds of levels."

Organizers are happy with how much the comedy scene in Portland and beyond has grown, and would like to think that although their festival helped give way to a more invigorated comedy scene in the city, it now has enough energy to keep going on its own.

Though Wood and Braunger often spoke with a sense of ending, they insist they really aren't sure.

"I would think we have something to do with putting (Portland) on the map as a cultural hotspot," Wood says. "I just hope we don't get squeezed out."

Find out more and buy tickets at www.bridgetowncomedy.com.

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