‘Bubblegum Garbage Party’ is as wild as it sounds

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The phrase “Bubblegum Garbage Party” came to Bay Area-based comedian Thomas Bridgman during a feverish, Nyquil-infused sick day off from work. Naturally, he then used it in a one-off tweet in which he joked that the term was his Burning Man nickname. The silly string of words means absolutely nothing: It’s vaguely tongue-twisting and “bubblegum garbage” sounds like a Twitter hashtag folks would use if Double Bubble suddenly became a cultural phenomenon.

Bridgman ended up using it for the name of his alt comedy show. The show title, for Bridgman, evokes abstraction. “That’s a party I want to go to,” he said. “Especially if it was clean garbage like crumpled up pieces of paper and just a bunch of balloons that look like bubblegum.”

“Bubblegum Garbage Party” doesn’t feature bright pink bubblegum balloons, but it certainly does capture the essence of abstraction. It’s a “loosey goosey,” bi-monthly concoction of stand-up, radio-like sound effects, improvisation, sketches, characters and guest interviews. Bridgman, alongside his fellow comedian and friend who goes by Timothy Pizza, produces “Bubblegum Garbage Party” twice a month at PianoFight in San Francisco.

A home for musicians and alt comedy acts, PianoFight is a restaurant with two black box theaters just behind the bar. Neither the small setting nor PianoFight’s location in the Tenderloin neighborhood ever deterred the comedians from putting on a show that was worth making the trip.

Pizza says the show’s beginnings were widely experimental — the comedians were “a bunch of toddlers running around like morons,” he joked. While Bridgman is onstage during “Garbage Party,” Pizza is up in the audio booth, bleep-blorping unintelligibly through a synthesizer and providing sound effects to accent the mayhem happening onstage. The character he plays is a sidekick of sorts — the robotic, offstage Andy Richter to Bridgman’s Conan O’Brien.

Still, Pizza credits the show’s success and his involvement in it to Bridgman himself, saying the host immediately makes people feel comfortable with his warmth and openness. (To host an interview-based show, that’s kind of the requirement.) And after engaging with Bridgman in person, it’s easy to understand where Pizza is coming from.

Bridgman works at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden by day and has always occupied the remainder of his time with artistic ventures. Admittedly anxious and living in daily worry, he has switched from artistic outlet to artistic outlet throughout his life. He was in an electroclash band through his 20s, flying across the country playing in a style the comedian calls “dirty techno meets the Buzzcocks.”

“I want to figure out some way that what is wrong with me can make me any amount of money,” Bridgman revealed.

Bridgman then transitioned to painting, opting for fluorescent color palettes in his work. (A post-“Garbage Party” giveaway of a ceramic, neon-painted Frederick Liszt bust alludes to the comedian’s past work as a painter.) He then began performing stand-up, started watching more comedy and was inspired by a show called “Storking Comedy” held at Oakland’s Stork Club. OJ Patterson ran the place, brought in guest comedians and artists and interviewed them onstage.

To Bridgman, it felt like a talk show, and he thought he’d try his hand at the format himself, even as an untrained improviser and interviewer. “I was just closing my eyes and falling backwards,” Bridgman said of his first attempts at interviewing guests onstage.

The interviews are what most of “Bubblegum Garbage Party” rests on. Bridgman invites a couple of comedians and musicians to each show — maybe sketch performers, stand-ups or musicians. After opening with a brief monologue of his own (accompanied by Timothy Pizza’s commentary of course), the first guest performs. He then interviews them, teasing out the authenticity behind the comedy. It’s all riffing, typically followed by an improvised bit between the onstage performers.

At one “Garbage Party” last month, one of the guests was comedian Edna Mira Raia, a brilliant, budding performer of characters. She stormed onstage dressed as a depressed goth teen, shouting about her dissatisfaction with life in an angry monotone, all the while staring at the ground. In her interview with Bridgman, Raia removed her wig and took the mic, revealing a sweet smile as she discussed her plans to move to Chicago to hone her act.

It’s during these interview bits that you see the warmth in Bridgman that Pizza praised so highly. “Bubblegum Garbage Party” isn’t easily defined: It’s absolutely wild, a grab bag of comic chaos. But when Bridgman walks into the darkened theater, Tecate can in hand, it’s bound to be a wild evening, one where you’ll always be welcome.

‘Bubblegum Garbage Party’ plays on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Danielle Gutierrez covers comedy. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @dmariegutierrez.