Life in Portland

First Stop PDX: How the Next Generation of Stand-Ups Are Getting Their Start in Portland

Ian Karmel

Ian Karmel

Portland Is a Funny Place

If you’re new to Portland, Oregon, then you’re probably starting to notice that the Rose City’s reputation as a mecca of weird is well deserved. This city has more than its share of quirky characters, and the local calendar is filled with events that would seem downright strange in other cities, but are just part of the cultural landscape here. 

Portland is also known for its great food and its vibrant music scene – plenty of critically acclaimed bands hail from PDX, after all, and local eateries are frequently featured in taste-making food blogs and magazines. 

But one aspect of Portland life that may have flown under your radar is the fact that this city has an amazing comedy scene. 

If You Can Make It Here, Maybe You Can Make It Somewhere Else

Shane Torres

Shane Torres

It used to be that comedians who were serious about their craft had two destinations: New York and Los Angeles. A few who made the move were rewarded by fame and fortune, while others found themselves unable to get noticed. And while tragedy has been known to breed comedy, there’s nothing like an ever-mounting pile of debt to make you question your life decisions. 

Instead of venturing straight into the belly of the best, some savvy comedians have been honing their chops in hip yet still relatively affordable mid-sized cities – places like Portland, Oregon – before moving on to the big time. 

In addition to its wealth of sidesplitting transplants, the Portland comedy community benefits from a wealth of homegrown talent and a very supportive scene. Local venues like Helium make ideal venues for up-and-comers to get their sea legs, and there’s always a headliner on the bill downtown at Harvey’s

Helium Comedy Club in Portland

Helium Comedy Club in Portland

Portland has its share of comedy events, as well. There’s the Bridgetown Comedy festival, whose 2016 lineup will include “The Bitter Buddha” Eddie Pepitone,  “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” star Rachel Bloom, Emmy-winning writer and stand-up Sara Schaefer, and too many other funny people to list. 

Then, there’s the All Jane festival (formerly All Jane No Dick), an all-female comedy festival that features the best women in comedy each fall. 

And of course, in true Portland fashion, there are plenty of other odd events and mini-festivals to attend. From arcades to bike shops, pot clubs to sex clubs, comedy is everywhere in PDX. 

It’s a Great Time to Be Funny in Portland

As you’d imagine, its robust comedy scene makes Portland a big draw for comedians who are pretty clearly on their way to the big time. 

Susan Rice is proof that women can be funny too -- especially in Portland. According to fans, what sets her apart is her age and her ability to take you by surprise. The 64-year old worked at a call center for years while practicing stand-up on the side at various open-mic venues around town. 

At Willamette Week’s Funniest Five showcase in 2015, Rice was voted tops. She is noted for not “working blue,” that is, in a ribald way, though she can make you laugh until you almost pee your pants. You won't be able to see her perform much outside of Harvey’s Comedy Club, however.

Shane Torres may originally hail from Texas, but he cut his teeth in the Portland comedy scene. He’s now a New York resident. If his name sounds familiar, you may have seen him killing it on Conan back in March. 

Ron Funches is another Portland graduate who’s graced Conan O’Brien’s stage. He’s also made appearances on Drunk History, BoJack Horseman, Bob’s Burgers, and Undateable, to name a few. He moved to LA in 2012, but Portlanders still consider him an honorary resident. 

Homegrown Portland comic Ian Karmel’s stand up album was released on indie label Kill Rock Stars, to wide acclaim. Before moving to Los Angeles, Ian was known locally for his funny, and at times poignant Portland Mercury column, Portland as F*ck. Now he’s known just about everywhere for being funny as f*ck. 

Ron Funches

Ron Funches

Dwight Slade, Matt Braunger… the list of Portland comedians making waves on a national level goes on and on. 

The bottom line for you, dear Portlander, is that you absolutely must get out there and support your local comedy scene. Who will be the next Portland comedian to make it to the big time? Bri Pruett? Gabe Dinger? Amy Miller? Who knows? Catch them while you can. 

[Photo Cred: Ian Karmel; Nailed Magazine; Helium Comedy Club; Ron Funches]