Kristine Levine: Not First, Not Last

October 10, 2018


Valerie Lopez


Richard Goodwin


As proof that the Alter­ca­tion Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val is full of new expe­ri­ences, the 2018 edi­tion gave us a first: an inter­view record­ed at a liquor store. To be hon­est, we thought we’d end up there some­time any­way, but for a dif­fer­ent rea­son; the good news is, this time it was the unique oppor­tu­ni­ty for Valerie Lopez to grab a few min­utes with Port­landia reg­u­lar, and part of the Doug Stan­hope fam­i­ly”, Kris­tine Levine. 

Valerie has a knack for get­ting guests to open new win­dows on their lives and think­ing, and Levine is no excep­tion. The big dif­fer­ence here is that Levine already has quite a few of them cracked wide, and doesn’t hes­i­tate to share how for­ma­tive (and absurd) moments shape her approach to comedy. 

A native of Port­land, Ore­gon, and moth­er of three, Levine faced hard­ship ear­ly on with a dif­fi­cult home life. As an escape from the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­fines, and to help those around her in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, she turned to invent quick skits and jokes to pro­vide relief to the group. It’s helped form her phi­los­o­phy of the ben­e­fits of enter­tain­ing. I noticed when artists share…it helps heal oth­er peo­ple,” she tells Valerie. 

I noticed when artists share…it helps heal oth­er peo­ple.” Kris­tine Levine

Levine mar­ried ear­ly, and when the first of her chil­dren arrived, the idea of com­e­dy took a back­seat to rais­ing the fam­i­ly. In one of life’s unique ran­dom encoun­ters, she found her­self sit­ting across from a psy­chic who saw per­for­mance in her future. While we don’t for­mal­ly endorse para­nor­mal phe­nom­e­non, here we are, so thank you, name­less arcane prac­ti­tion­er, wher­ev­er you may be. 

While her debut open mic flopped, Levine knew she had a sto­ry to tell. Many sto­ries, in fact. Her first mar­riage end­ed when her hus­band left her for a woman he met on StarTrek​.com; tears may have been shed, but, as the mark of a true come­di­an, Levine imme­di­ate­ly not­ed that she had been gift­ed the seed of a dark­ly fun sto­ry, prac­ti­cal­ly on a sil­ver plat­ter. (Star Trek fans: yes, I almost said sil­ver repli­ca­tor”, but I would like it to be not­ed I showed some rare nerd restraint.) She remar­ried, and the now trio of grown kids were the co-stars of her family’s pod­cast, Levine Large.

The Port­land com­e­dy scene is known as one of the best in Amer­i­ca, and Levine def­i­nite­ly did her part in help­ing build it. Her show Crit­i­cal Com­e­dy show­cas­es peo­ple that…almost nobody knew, which was Levine’s goal: give them a chance to try out com­e­dy in a timed set, but ruled with a bit of an iron fist. If the per­former doesn’t fol­low the rules, or takes things in a neg­a­tive direc­tion, off the stage they go. 

I know what’s com­ing, and where we’re going…and I love the fact that you don’t.” Kris­tine Levine

It was in the same spir­it that Levine her­self land­ed in the Stan­hope fam­i­ly” men­tioned ear­li­er; as proof that Face­book does occa­sion­al­ly bring good things to the world, she first con­nect­ed with Stan­hope in a com­e­dy dis­cus­sion group. (To this day he calls her by his nick­name for her, Mamu”.) It led to mee­tups, more friends join­ing the cir­cle, and turned into a tight-knit group that trav­eled the world, sup­port­ing and pro­mot­ing each other. 

That kind of trust and sup­port is a cen­tral theme with Levine. She describe com­e­dy as like tick­ling a tod­dler; if the tod­dler doesn’t trust you, they won’t laugh”. Some of her jokes and sto­ries run dark and she tells Valerie about how build­ing that rela­tion­ship with the audi­ence is key: so they’re pre­pared, yet not, for what’s in store. It’s a tricky bal­ance to set up, but Levine embraces it, say­ing I know what’s com­ing, and where we’re going…and I love the fact that you don’t.”

At the Edin­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val, Levine tast­ed a bit of the sour bite of a neg­a­tive pro­fes­sion­al” review of her per­for­mance. The show itself, titled Fat Whore, couldn’t be more plain in set­ting the stage for com­e­dy that would walk the line”, but some review­ers some­how missed the joke. Levine shares some impor­tant lessons with Valerie about how some­times the audi­ence just does­n’t quite join the ride, and how to keep it in perspective. 

Soon after, when the cast­ing call came in for Port­landia, Levine jumped at the oppor­tu­ni­ty. She expect­ed a one-off role, and was nev­er sure she was nail­ing the part, but the episodes kept com­ing. It hasn’t led her into a life focused on act­ing, but she’s not rul­ing it out. 

Now a res­i­dent of Tuc­son, Ari­zona, and co-host of the acclaimed radio show Frank Show, Levine is still a fierce ambas­sador of com­e­dy com­mu­ni­ty. And I do mean fierce; there’s a somber­ing yet sup­port­ive vehe­mence in the sto­ries she tells Valerie about the trou­bles she found in the scene there, and advice for comics on demand­ing the val­ue and treat­ment they’re due, no mat­ter the stage of their career journey. 

It’s a jour­ney Levine admits she hasn’t yet mas­tered. Despite the TV and radio gigs, and an album out, Hey Sailor, she still wants to do more. Like it or not, there’s a mun­dane side of the road to com­e­dy suc­cess, field­ing emails, keep­ing up web­sites, mak­ing con­nec­tions. It’s almost as if she needs some­one to…manage…it for her. Is a man­ag­er” a thing in show business?

If you know of one, or are one, here’s your chance. You just might have to fol­low up a cou­ple of times; she’s worth it. 

Kristine Levine