Tammy Pooler, a Liquid Blue regular, says she spent $1000 on classes through the Connection and performed there sporadically for a couple years, before deciding she wanted more stage time. But when folks at the Connection found out she was looking elsewhere, she says they told her she wouldn’t be booked at the Connection anymore.
“Even though you spent so much money on the class, they don’t want you to go anywhere else,” says Pooler, who performed in the Connection’s “Hot New Talent” show in 2003. Her accusation of a threatened “ban” is echoed by half a dozen other comics who also perform outside the Connection, and denied by Connection owner Oliver Keithly.
He says he doesn’t bar comics from his club for performing elsewhere, but does give “preference” to comics who hang out at his club and wait their turn, filling in for folks who don’t show up, getting occasional spots to work on new material, eventually building up to a regular gig. “It takes a while,” Keithly says.
Tim Ferrell, the comedy-class teacher who also books the Connection, denies the club bans performers for performing elsewhere. He acknowledges, however, that there is a tipping point, unspecified but real, which could put a performer into a less-than-favored category. “There is,” Ferrell says, “a limit to what we will indulge.”
Karen Morgan, who hosts the Wednesday–night showcases at the Connection, says she believes people who learned at the club should stay there to develop and grow, out of a sense of mutual loyalty.
Seth Bond Perry took Ferrell’s class, and credits it with his success on stages all over Portland. When he first finished the class, he waited his turn on the Comedy Connection’s stage. But after a year, the last half of which saw him onstage five minutes a month, “for the amount of time I was getting, on off nights, I just didn’t consider myself one of the players” at the Connection.
Though he says he was told that if he played there he wouldn’t be booked at the Connection, Perry tried out a Liquid Blue show and “had so much fun” he decided to stay. Now he’s getting slots of 10 minutes or more every week at Liquid Blue, and practices at the Acoustic Coffee open-mic nights every other week.
“I was more in charge of my own destiny,” not just “waiting to be given a slot,” Perry says. After the class ended, “I didn’t realize there was more that I could do,” but once he found out there were other stages, other audiences, Perry never looked back.
Comedian Brian Brinegar says he felt his advancement was limited by Keithly’s preference to work with folks who perform exclusively at the Connection. Now, “I perform four or five times a week sometimes” — a level of exposure and practice he says he would never get at the Connection.
“There’s a lot of comics that don’t care if they’re banned” from the Connection so long as they get stage time, and even a little cash, says Pooler, who started Laugh Your Ass Off Productions to compete with the Connection’s comedian-booking business. “The more I work to get shows, the more people say, ‘Now I dare to leave.’”