DANGLE A $1,000 PRIZE in the air, and Portland's comedians scamper out of the woodwork like Yogi Bear after a picnic basket. (It is best, when writing about comedy, to lead with a joke.) The annual Portland's Funniest Person Contest at Helium Comedy Club is a bracketed contest that eventually winnows Portland's comedy aspirants down to a pool of 10, who compete for that $1,000 prize in the categories of stage presence, original material, and audience response. (Full disclosure: I was one of the judges of the final round.)
On Sunday, June 10, the "Funniest Person" mantle went to Nathan Brannon, a comic who describes himself, fairly accurately, as looking like a pregnant Tracy Chapman. Brannon's comedy has leveled up recently—he killed it at comedy showcase Funny Over Everything last month, and Sunday's solid set included a great bit about trying to do yardwork after mistaking muscle relaxants for allergy pills. Last year's third-place winner Shane Torres (who self-deprecatingly describes his own looks as that of a "Native American Meat Loaf impersonator") came in second, followed by Gabe Dinger, who improbably killed it with a bit about a sack full of dead kittens. Other standouts included Christian Ricketts, who abandoned his signature character-based bits for a smart, straightforward set; up-and-comer Anthony Lopez, whose Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle joke never misses; and last year's second-place winner Tim Hammer, who won over the crowd with his weird, deadpan oneliners.
This year, the contest's system of bracketed competition—the early rounds of which are judged purely by audience response—produced an unfortunate result: Not a single woman made it into the finals of the contest, despite the fact that there are most definitely women in town working at or above the level of some of Sunday's contestants. (Kristine Levine, Stephanie Purtle, Jessie McCoy, Whitney Streed, and Bri Pruett all come immediately to mind.) It's only a matter of time until a lady wins this title—but in the meantime, congrats are nonetheless due to Brannon, Torres, and Dinger, three of the funniest dudes in town.