Volunteering for All Jane was proportionally less stressful than Bridgetown. Maybe it’s because I was assigned to fewer shifts. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t rushing all over town to manage shows like I was at Bridgetown. Maybe it’s because it’s a smaller festival, overall. That’s not to say it’s not important. On the contrary, it’s a festival we need.
The night of my first shift, I stood in the rain outside the room for the second show of the evening. I was assigned to a show at the second stage, a smaller theater around the corner from the main theater which was primarily used for improv and sketch shows. It had been a long day for me already, having spent a full day at work before arriving for my shift to stage manage. I checked off comics arriving for the show, gathered information from them, and ended up sitting cross-legged just outside the door reading Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up and gnawing on the cold pizza a couple of friends had brought me from the green room. The improv show inside was running late, and I was glad to have a few minutes to myself to relax. The first show featured visiting favorites like Anica Cihla and Danielle Perez, was hosted by Portland’s own Katie Nguyen (who had just brought me pizza), and Vice/Comedy Central feature Kate Willett.
Shifting the setup from the improv show beforehand threw me off a little before our show started, and it made me feel weird about how useful or helpful I was to the comics and host during the show. Running back and forth from the back of the room, all the way around the building down the corridor, through the door leading to the backstage area several times within a few minutes left me quickly out of breath, but the comics were polite and easy to manage.
The following night went a little smoother. My pal Andie Main was hosting, and we texted throughout the night while we were on opposite sides of the room to maintain communication about where the comics were, how the lineup had switched, etc. The show closed with the fabulous Jackie Kashian, who I will never forget for introducing me to the term “pointy” as a body type.
photo of Jackie Kashian by Deira Nebauer used with permission/ All Jane Comedy Festival
The next night was special. The festival wranglers offered tickets for volunteers to see festival headliner Maria Bamford for half the cost of the public admission price. I jumped for my ticket. Now that I was a comic myself, this show had so much more meaning behind it than when late one night in 2007 I discovered and fell in love with her one-woman Youtube series.
I stopped at my favorite Mexican place before heading to the venue. When I arrived, my heart sank as I saw signs saying ALL BAGS ARE SUBJECT TO SEARCH. Scenarios in my head flicked by, one after the other, about the door attendant confronting me about the burrito, chips and guac in my purse. Surely, they would take it from me. As I waited in line, fidgeting, I wondered if I’d have to throw out the $11 meal I just purchased. I really didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to get out of line and trudge back to my car in the downpour to eat it, either. It all turned out to be for naught, because the attendant stamped my hand without even looking me in the eye, and in I went. I was a successful food criminal.
That same night was the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I sat at the end of a row with headphones jammed into my ears, listening to the endless prattling of an old racist, misogynist windbag against a woman who was indeed flawed but one who I hope will become our president nonetheless. The guy sitting next to me asked how the debate was going, and we and a couple more people down the aisle got into a discussion about the debate for a few minutes before the subject of comedy came up. In a small world, I found out they had just been to my boyfriend’s Sunday open mic the week before, and that they had remembered him and some of the comics from the mic. At one point, one of the volunteer managers approached me and indicated that the first few rows right in front of the stage were reserved for volunteers and guests, and that I could move much closer. I felt like I had bonded with my stranger friends, and despite the option to now sit closer to Maria, I felt it would be rude to leave while we were in mid conversation. I was close enough to the stage to be happy with were I was.
photo of JoAnn Schinderle by Deira Nebauer used with permission / All Jane Comedy Festival
Soon after, it was showtime! JoAnn Schinderle hosted and was amazing, and Jackie Kashian featured. When her turn came, Maria danced on stage and did a series of kicks and noodly, jerky movements, expressing her weirdness for the audience while we all laughed at the wacky spectacle she made of herself for our entertainment.
One particular moment stuck with me throughout her show. About fifteen or twenty minutes into her act, Maria lost her entire train of thought and paused on stage. She apologized, stuttering that she couldn’t remember what she was going to say, she couldn’t remember her joke. She paced around and apologized a couple more times. There wasn’t much dead air; maybe twenty or thirty seconds. Nothing to a buzzed audience, but a lifetime for a performer on stage. I could see her hands shaking as she walked around on stage trying to remember what she wanted to say, pausing, until something in her mind prompted her and she went on her way again, making us laugh with silly voices and impressions of her parents.
photo of Maria Bamford by Deira Nebauer used with permission / All Jane Comedy Festival
It made me think of one time when I bombed the worst I ever had in my life, a time that made me want to quit. I flat out forgot my entire set at an open mic. I was still brand new and didn’t know that it didn’t matter that I didn’t remember my set. But instead of continuing, I promptly got off stage and left, practically running to my car to get the hell out of there as fast as I could before I ran into someone I knew, or worse, someone who had seen what had just happened. It was the worst thing that could have happened. I felt dead, and it took me a week or so to recover and start going out to mics again.
In the few moments that she forgot her jokes, Maria inspired me more than at any other time during her show when she was killing the audience. There was a clear message I heard in the silence on stage. Even Maria Bamford shakes on stage and forgets her jokes. And then she went on, and she was okay. She was more than okay; she was phenomenal. The entire theater rose from their chairs and issued her a standing ovation as she ended the show, and she thanked us profusely. Afterward, a friend I ran into at the venue asked me to drinks, so we went to The Hungry Tiger and talked about Maria, comedy, and our lives. During the rainy drive home, I dug out my cold burrito and reminisced about the night.
The next day, JoAnn wrote a long Facebook post about meeting Maria Bamford at Bridgetown four years ago when she was new to comedy, and how she never thought she’d be able to work with her.
It made me think about who I’ll be saying I never thought I’d work with and how my life will change in four years from now.
If nothing else, I hope I’ll still be sneaking burritos into shows in my purse.