Everybody’s a comedian.

At least it seems that way in Portland these days. Entrepreneurial Maine comics have created so many regular comedy shows that folks can tickle their funny bones at some bar or club every night of the week.

Aharon Willows and Will Green, two members of the Portland Comedy Co-Op, started putting on shows every Monday at Blue in September. Mark Turcotte, a father of two who gave up a marketing job to promote and perform comedy, began a Tuesday stand-up show at Andy’s Old Port Pub the same month. Comic and accountant Michael Levinsky has Wednesdays covered, staging his Portland Comedy Showcase most weeks at Bull Feeney’s for about two years.

Tim Hofmann, who used to put on comedy shows in his apartment building’s basement, has run his weekly Laugh Shack shows at Lincolns in the Old Port on Thursdays since June. Then there’s the Gold Room on Warren Avenue, which has been hosting national and local comics for 14 years. And Portland clubs also host a variety of free “open mic” nights, where the audience may or may not be paying attention.

Why the sudden crowd of comedy shows in Portland? One key reason is the legacy of the city’s only full-time comedy club, the Comedy Connection, which closed in 2012 after 20 years in business. A generation of Portland-area comics got their starts there or took stand-up classes there, learning the rules of comedy performance and etiquette practiced in larger cities like New York and Los Angeles. Now many of those same comics have the skills and the drive to create their own scene.

Many grew up being able to watch comedians 24 hours a day, on cable TV or online, so being a comedian seems more accessible than it did 20 or 30 years ago when a person’s best chance to see comedians was on late-night talk shows or sitcoms. The Internet also allows this generation of comics to market themselves with relative ease, and more seem to be attacking their dreams of a comedy career with a decidedly entrepreneurial spirit.

“I’d really like to get to the point where I’m not doing other things, just comedy,” said Green, 32, who teaches special education as a day job. “I just want to keep pushing, keep my fingers in all these shows, and see what the next thing is for me.”


It’s a good time to be a comedy fan in Portland. Besides all the new comedy showcase nights, several nationally known comedians will perform in the area this fall. Amy Schumer, star of the blockbuster film “Trainwreck” and the TV show “Inside Amy Schumer,” is scheduled to do two shows Nov. 7 at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Other comedians scheduled to play southern Maine include Gilbert Gottfried, Nov. 7 at The Gold Room in Portland, and Bo Burnham at the State Theatre in Portland on Nov. 16. Gottfried was the voice of the parrot in Disney’s “Aladdin” and the duck in Aflac TV ads. Burnham, whose act is a mix of stand-up, music and theater, also starred in the MTV sitcom “Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous.”

In the short term, the weekly comedy nights mean Portland is teeming with places where you can see local comics, veterans and newcomers alike. Whether those comics will make it to the big time, without a real comedy club to play at, is hard to say. Whether Greater Portland will get another full-time comedy club also is hard to say.

The Comedy Connection was not a big money-maker, and owner Oliver Keithly said he often supported the club with money from his restaurant, The Porthole, and money made from other ventures. He worked at keeping the club going because of his “love of the art form” of stand-up comedy, he said recently.

Keithly’s restaurant and club were ordered to close in September 2012 after city inspectors found rats in the Custom House Wharf building and other code violations. The restaurant was later allowed to reopen, but Keithly decided in October 2012 not to continue running the Comedy Connection and the Porthole. He said the main reason was his inability to get a new lease or an agreement on property improvements with owner Kenneth MacGowan.

Keithly had been working at a Boston comedy club in the early 1990s when he thought about opening his own. Portland was just two hours north and didn’t have a comedy club. Keithly liked the city and opened his Comedy Connection here in 1993.

He soon met Bob Marley, then a struggling young comedian who was booking himself into bars and clubs, any place he could get a gig. As a regular at the Comedy Connection, Marley’s career took off. Keithly became Marley’s New England manager, and the pair still work together today.

Marley is Maine’s best-known comedian. He has worked in comedy full time for 20 years. He lives in Falmouth but performs around the country.

Marley says his advice to young comics is to get as much stage time as possible. Often that means moving to a bigger city, where instead of five or six comedy shows a week, there could be that many in one night.

Still, Marley says he admires the fact that Portland comics are doing whatever they can to get on stage and practice their chosen craft.

“When I started, I had to go to music open mics and ask to do my act between bands,” Marley said. “So the fact that these guys are creating their own scene is fantastic.”

Though many of the comedy nights started recently are run by men, the local comedy scene includes lots of women comics, too. Last Friday, Asylum in Portland was scheduled to host an event called “Ladies Night at Local Laughs” with four female comedians on the bill.

Playing the new local showcase nights is not exactly lucrative. The organizing comics often pay other performers between nothing and $25 for an appearance, or a hosting gig. But these comedians want stage time and practice and laughs – although making a living would be nice, too.


It was 8 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Mark Turcotte was sitting in the back room of Andy’s Old Port Pub, waiting for the second week of his new series, Maine Event Comedy Tuesday Night Stand-Up, to begin. The brick-walled room was dominated by a pool table and separated from the main part of the pub by a black curtain. The curtain did little to keep out the music of a guitarist playing for pub customers. There was no stage set up, just a microphone stand in front of glittering gold strips dangling from the ceiling.

It was showtime, but there was no audience. Still, Turcotte had plenty of company as he chatted with the half-dozen other comics waiting to play the show. There were relative youngsters, like Aharon Willows, 25, who runs the comedy night at Blue, and veterans like Dennis Fogg, 54, a longtime Maine comic who also makes customers laugh at his diner, Uncle Andy’s in South Portland.

The comics kidded each other about jokes they had seen each other tell in recent weeks – “You’re not gonna use that joke?” or “Well, that one’s not too terrible” – but Fogg said the banter is helpful, since comedians hear each other’s jokes differently than an audience would.

“We don’t just think about whether it’s funny, we start to categorize the parts of the joke and see what direction it takes,” he said. “Sometimes you didn’t see the punchline coming. Sometimes you can tell a comedian he might have tried a different direction.

“But mostly we just talk about how terrible he is,” said Fogg, pointing at comic Steve Cloutier, eating his supper and not paying attention to Fogg.

After about 20 minutes, a waitress from the pub brought in two women from Michigan who decided they’d like to see the show. For the next hour and a half, Turcotte and the others performed their routines for an audience of two.

At one point, Willows bought one of the women a beer, because if she got up to get a beer herself, the comics would have lost half their audience.

Comedian Tuck Tucker, who went on last, got his audience’s attention when he said he used to live in Lansing, Michigan, and proceeded to tell jokes about that city. After the show, Tucker admitted he never lived in Lansing. He had simply used his phone to Google “tough cities in Michigan” so he could use some jokes he had about rough Maine cities. He had heard another comic draw a dead silence with jokes about Shaw’s supermarkets. Shaw’s apparently hasn’t spread to Michigan.

The comedians could have just performed for each other, but Turcotte said there really is no substitute for an audience, even a small one. As host, he repeatedly thanked the women from Michigan for being there.

Turcotte, 45, said he knew when he was 12 that he wanted to be a comedian, but he didn’t know how to become one. Then a few years ago he took classes taught by Tim Ferrell, a former writer for the Comedy Central cable channel who taught workshops in New York City and counts Jon Stewart and Ray Romano among his former students. Ferrell gave classes for years at the Comedy Connection and continues to teach the classes in Maine, at Mad Horse Theatre in South Portland.

Since Ferrell’s classes, Turcotte has thrown himself into the craft, leaving a job in communications at the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing in Lewiston. Under the Maine Event Comedy banner, he organizes shows around Maine, bringing in regional and national comics and booking well-known Maine comedians such as Karen Morgan.

But he also wants to become a better stand-up, so he needs stage time.

“My kids are older and I have the time in my life to really pursue this now,” said Turcotte, who lives in Lewiston. “One of my goals is to run my own club some day. All the pieces need to fall into place.”


An entrepreneurial spirit has always seemed to come naturally to Tim Hofmann, 37. He started self-publishing comic books when he was 20, then shifted to stand-up comedy at 25, when he decided the kind of jokes he liked worked better on stage than on paper.

To hone his stand-up routine, he entered comedy contests three years in a row at the Comedy Connection. To get himself stage time, Hofmann started organizing comedy shows in the basement of his Westbrook apartment building, without telling the owner, in 2013.

He’d get crowds of 50 people crammed into the basement space. He called the makeshift club The Laugh Shack and did shows there for more than a year, before the crowds became too big and he moved to the Skybox in Westbrook. He started booking shows all over the state and, in June, began weekly shows at Lincolns, a new speakeasy club in the Old Port that doesn’t advertise its address and is only accessible by a secret door.

On a recent Thursday, there were more than 50 people in the audience to see a lineup of nine comics. Hofmann’s jokes included observations about stuck-in-time Paul’s Food Center on Congress Street (“You can get newspapers from 1997 there”) and a back-and-forth with audience members. He asked people how far they had traveled for the show, prompting one woman to say she had lived for three months in Arlington, Massachusetts. “I hope you’ll say things that are less boring, going forward,” Hofmann said.

The co-owner of Lincolns, Mark Ohlson, had seen Hofmann perform and was instantly impressed with his passion.

Like many local comedians, Hofmann works other jobs, often at restaurants, to supplement his comedy income. It’s a model that aspiring musicians, including those in Portland’s lively scene, have used for years.

Hofmann and others running the comedy nights are essentially small-business owners. They book the comics, collect the admission charges and take care of expenses, such as paying comics. The club owners let them use the space in exchange for bringing in people to eat and drink, and for the publicity it brings the venue.

“This is not a side project for him,” Ohlson said of Hofmann. “He is really committed to this.”


Although the local comedy scene is growing, it’s still not big enough for some comics, those trying to cram in as much practice and polish as they can. One is South Portland native Lucas O’Neil, currently living in Chicago.

O’Neil, 25, is an example of the Portland comedy scene’s strengths and weaknesses. He took Ferrell’s comedy workshop while at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. He had what Ferrell described as “super-strong instincts” with a great stage presence and a talent for writing.

After college, O’Neil got a job as an advertising copy writer with VIA, a Portland agency. He did regular shows in Portland, including the Wednesday night at Bull Feeney’s, and drove around New England for other gigs. But Ferrell encouraged him to move to a bigger city, if he wanted to have a full-time comedy career.

O’Neil has been in Chicago since March 2014, working at a restaurant and performing as much as possible. Between open mics and paid-admission gigs, he can be on a stage somewhere every night, maybe at several different venues. That means, if he’s trying to polish a joke or work up a new routine, he can get the same amount of stage time in four or five nights in Chicago as he might get in a month in Portland.

Still, O’Neil feels like Portland’s vibrant comedy scene prepared him for what he’s now facing.

“I learned how to work hard at comedy, what the process was, from watching others, and I felt prepared for a bigger place,” he said. “Portland is a place where comics can learn and grow. It’s the place where I found my voice.”

And it’s a place where, in any given week, dozens of local comedians are finding their voice, too.


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