Stand-up comedy is having a moment in Bend.
That’s the word from local comedians and comedy producers such as Katy Ipock.
In addition to performing as a stand-up herself, Ipock books touring comedians and hosts comedy showcases and open-mic nights through her company, Ipockolyptic Productions.
She began producing open mics a year and a half ago, settling in nine months ago at Craft Kitchen and Brewery, a 34-seat tasting room in northeast Bend. She also books the occasional show at the downtown nightclub The Capitol.
Her Craft Kitchen comedy shows have sold out consistently, she said. On Thursday of this week, Ipock is bringing Tom Clark, seen on “Conan,” Comedy Central and elsewhere.
“It’s not like I’m selling out the Tower,” she said. “But still, I had over 50 people at my last show at Craft.”
While her comedy shows have drawn strong audience numbers for a while, about three months ago Ipock began seeing a similar rise in the number of upstart comedians in Bend at her open-mic events on Tuesdays.
“When I first started my mic, I called it a success if I had four, and now I’m almost always getting 10,” she said. Some nights draw as many as 14 comics.
“We have somewhere between 20 to 25 aspiring comics in town — those people that are consistently going to mics and grinding the art form like they should,” said Ipock, 33.
Two of the more established comedians are Cody Parr and Jake Woodmansee, both of whom perform regularly regionally and beyond. Woodmansee recently played Las Vegas for the first time, and will perform in Eugene in August.
Parr produces through Beertown Comedy and recently performed in Chicago and Milwaukee and said he’s seeing “a lot of younger people take to the stand-up comedy … going over to the open mics. I’m seeing more and more and more people. I’m like, ‘I don’t know who any of these people are. Holy cow. I go away for a few months and all of a sudden, all these brand new faces. And they’re really funny.’ I was like, ‘This is amazing. I love this.’”
Jessica Taylor, Gina Christopher and Cole Robeson are among the names mentioned. Robeson began doing comedy in 2018 and is already starting to land out-of-town shows, Ipock said.
“We kind of called him the best new comic in 2018,” she said.
“He’s very polished,” Woodmansee said. “I’ve never heard a joke come out of him that sounds rough or, like, still in the works. … He’s got a very confident, steady appearance on the stage. I thought that from the first time I saw him, and even the last time I saw him, he’s just very consistent. … I think he’s got a lot of promise.”
The role of open mics
Ryan Traughber is a local comedian and producer through Bend Comedy, hosting comedy nights Fridays at Seven Nightclub in Bend, and on the last Saturday of each month at Double J Saloon in Redmond. Last fall, Bend Comedy began hosting live comedy at Blockbuster Video — the last Blockbuster on Earth — on the first Saturday of each month.
“There’s not a typical crowd for this one, which is kind of fun. The typical crowd is the Blockbuster fan — usually a little bit on the nerdier side, people that appreciate Blockbuster for the entertainment that it has brought them. And the fact that we are bringing entertainment to Blockbuster is just sort of a novelty.”
Traughber mostly books out-of-town acts, but “We do our best to put at least one local comic on every single show that we do,” he said. “That way we are always supporting the local comedy scene, and making sure that local, newer comedians are getting their opportunity to move up and move forward in the industry.”
Part of the intention behind open mics is helping comics evolve, Traughber said. Once a comic has honed a number of sets of different material, Bend Comedy will ask them to be part of a show.
Fine-tuning their craft can take comedians years. According to Ipock, the usual trajectory in more competitive comedy scenes is three to five years of open mics, after which a comic may get a chance to open shows, doing 10-minute sets for another few years — also gratis.
“You’re not getting any money in your pocket for 10 to 12 (years),” she said. “It’s definitely not like that here, just because we have a lot of opportunities to give to comics. We’ve got three to four different comedy producers in town, all with shows that need people on them. We’re definitely looking for people. … The talent here makes it easy to do.”
Traughber calls the scenario a Catch-22.
“Bend is super supportive of being able to hone your skills and create your art and show it off. But when it comes to stand-up comedy specifically, Bend is giving them too much opportunity,” he said.
If a comic finds quick success here and doesn’t continue to work hard, “They will tend to plateau at that point as far as their skills go,” he said. “There’s a lot of stand-up comedians in the Bend comedy industry that aren’t fighting for stage time like they would if they were in Portland, Seattle or L.A. We are, I guess, spoiling them, for lack of a better term.”
Parr knows firsthand how cutthroat it can be in Los Angeles He got his first taste of comedy as a senior at Summit High. In 2008, after two years of college at Oregon State University, he moved to L.A. to pursue acting, music and entertainment.
He was there 6 1⁄2 years. “I did stand-up comedy for about four of them, pretty consistently going to every comedy club, the Improv, Laugh Factory, Comedy Store, Ha Ha Cafe. Everywhere I could get on at the open mics.”
Those years were, in a word, “hard.”
“It was very, very, very competitive. Everybody was after each other because there was very little space for people to get on, and it was hard to stay on,” said Parr, 31. “One of the things I came across and experienced was people stealing my jokes. I would go to open mics and there would just be other comedians at the comedy club, and nobody would ever laugh at you. And if they did laugh, they were going to steal your joke, and then go to the next club and then tell your joke as if they wrote it.”
The only recourse: “You could kick some ass, but that’s about it,” Parr said, laughing. “That happened a few times, where I’d seen other comedians threaten other comedians physically with violence about stealing jokes. I never actually did that.”
Parr advises anyone seriously considering attempting a career in comedy “be absolutely in love with it. Upside down, inside out. Be in love with it. It is a hard business,” he said.
Parr made friends and connections during those years, but decided to continue working from Bend. He was recently accepted into the Oregon Comedy Competition, a statewide contest holding one of its early rounds at The Capitol in Bend on Aug. 17. Parr is among a handful of Bend comics who will compete against comics from other parts of the state.
Woodmansee, 38, also headed to L.A. for a time, but decided he could have the career he wanted and still live in Bend, where he’s a stone and tile worker. He’ll appear in Eugene next month, and will do a music improv set on Aug. 2 at Silver Moon Brewing in Bend. He and a live band will conjure songs on the spot using audience suggestions.
“I prefer to live in Bend, so I have no delusions of getting big and going to New York someday,” he said. “I’m just happy doing it here. For people that have that aspiration and do want to travel with it, you really have to be putting yourself out there 24/7.”
Dedicated to comedy
With the growing appetite for comedy in Bend, Traughber, Ipock and Woodmansee all think the time may be close for a dedicated comedy club in Bend, as opposed to bars and other venues that host occasional comedy nights.
At one point, a local chef asked Woodmansee to scout possible locations for a comedy club.
“There’s been people talking about it for sure,” he said. “It’s on people’s minds. Just nothing’s come to fruition yet.”
Ipock thinks such a designated club is still a few years off, but if Traughber has his druthers, it could be sooner: He’d like to be the person to open that club.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “We are planning on opening a comedy club.” Right now, he’s considering crowdfunding, which “would also give us an idea of what the local community would be willing to contribute to a comedy club.” Closer on the horizon is the comedy festival Bend Comedy aims to hold in May 2020. Traughber said he prefers festivals to competitions. After he organized the one-year-only Last Comic Standing Bend competition in 2013, he came to the conclusion he doesn’t like competitions.
“I feel in comedy competitions nobody comes out the winner. Even the person that is given the first place trophy will not come out the winner because every other comedian will then resent them, thinking, ‘Well, I’m actually funnier than them.’”
Woodmansee experienced just that phenomenon after winning the statewide Oregon Last Comedian Standing competition in 2014.
“I had a lot of people coming after me,” he said, laughing. “There were 150 comedians. Really, end of the day in a competition that big, it’s just luck. It’s just you happen to tell the right jokes for that crowd, and they liked you and they voted for you.”
However, he feels that comedy competitions such as the Aug. 17 event at The Capitol are good for emerging comics. “That’s great networking time for people. It’s almost like Harry Potter discovering wizards. ‘They’re everywhere,’” he said, laughing.
He advises comedians entering their first competition not to take it too seriously.
“Whether you win or lose, don’t take it to heart. You’re only as good as your last gig. You still have to get out there and work again,” Woodmansee said.
On the whole, the comedians The Bulletin spoke to believe Bend is a nurturing environment for comedians.
“We are a unique place in the country, just from what I’ve seen and experienced,” Parr said. “(In) little Bend, Oregon, nobody wants to tear anybody down. They all want to help each other, they all want to build one another up. I think that’s what sets us apart from most major cities in the country.”
Ipock said, “We definitely have some people that have a chance in making it. I don’t know what it is about the comedy scene in Bend. I don’t know how we are cranking out so many good comics at the pace that we are.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0349, firstname.lastname@example.org