Many are unaware that, beneath the tantalizing music lineup crust of Bumbershoot is a warm, gooey, artsy center, focused on short films, local theater and amazing comedy. The care with which OneReel books up-and-coming talent alongside household names is nothing short of magic.
The reason Bumbershoot comedy sets the gold standard is because Seattle Center affords them the use of multiple theaters, which allows for a wider range of media. Podcasts like Comedy Bang! Bang! (featuring host Scott Aukerman and, more often than not, Paul F. Tompkins) and Doug Loves Movies (with the incomparably lucid, Doug Benson) are able to record live shows and, since there’s a gathering of comedians behind the scenes, the lineups are generally unbelievable.
My initial experience with the comedy aspect of Bumbershoot was sitting in the stand-by line for roughly forty-five minutes because I missed out on the limited comedy passes. The line was serpentine and full of people waiting for news, any news, on when or if we would make it inside. It felt like we were all waiting to board a train that might never come, nobody allowing themselves to get their hopes up. Suddenly, the line began to move and most were granted entry.
Patton Oswalt was an early adopter in regards to Bumbershoot. He was among the first comedians I saw in 2004, and made several appearances in years before then, but continued to return to the festival practically every year. The main reason I saw him was because my friend, who was thought to have perished during Flogging Molly, gave me a copy of Feelin’ Kinda Patton, which had become sacred amongst my friends and I, and is still quoted frequently within our circle.
When I saw Oswalt for the first time I expected to hear his bits verbatim, kind of like when you see concerts and hope the songs are familiar in a live setting. But that’s not what happened at all. Instead, we were treated to new, experimental material and half-thoughts and prompts and startling improvisation. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.
So, since I aim to see Oswalt as many times as I can, I found my way to his set in 2009 and settled in for the familiarity. Again, my expectations were met with something far more valuable.
These bits were more developed and further along in the incubation process. He was fine-tuning the rhythms of each joke, setting them up in new ways, and trying out minute tweaks. Since he’d recorded and released a new album just before the festival, he traveled a more free-form route but with the enthusiasm and confidence that made even the roughest draft hold value. It was a rare example of an artist live-editing their work in front of an audience, which is one of the bravest (and probably, in retrospect, scariest) forms of self-expression I can imagine.
Yes, Bumbershoot is best-known as a music festival, but the comedy lineup is arguably the most consistent aspect of their programming. With just a little research and planning, you’ll be able to see the next wave of comedy during the rare interim where they’re finding their own voice. Much like the music component to the festival, sometimes blindly selecting a show can lead to the best experiences.
Photo of Patton Oswalt and Doug Benson by Daniel Berman. This year’s Bumbershoot lineup includes Wu-Tang Clan, Elvis Costello, Afghan Whigs, Schoolboy Q, Mavis Stables, Capital Cities, The Replacements and hundreds more. Tickets are still available.
This year’s Bumbershoot lineup includes Wu-Tang Clan, Elvis Costello, Afghan Whigs, Schoolboy Q, Mavis Staples, Capital Cities, The Replacements and hundreds more. Tickets are still available.
More in this series:
- Against Me! (2004)
- The Locust & Flogging Molly (2005)
- Iggy & The Stooges (2005)
- Kanye West (2006)
- John Legend (2007)
- Man Man (2008)
- Monotonix (2008)
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2011)