FOR THE THIRD YEAR in a row, more than 100 of Portland's stand-up comics spent several weeks competing for the title of "Portland's Funniest Person," in a contest held every summer by the Helium Comedy Club. The winner snags $1,000, bragging rights, and the heart-warming knowledge that the words "funniest person" will be attached to their name every time they're written about in places like the Mercury.
Shane Torres won this year's title, after placing third in 2011, and second in 2012. While his victory this year might have seemed like a foregone conclusion, he earned it at the finals (full disclosure: I was one of the judges), with a precise, well-honed set about his dead father, his fondness for the mall food court, and, of course, his resemblance to a "Native American Meatloaf impersonator." I asked Shane what he plans to do with his winnings, now that he's a Portland comedy hotshot. "Cocaine," he replied, followed shortly by, "I honestly don't know. It will get spent eventually."
Last year's third-place winner, Gabe Dinger, came in second this year, with a confident set that focused on getting older and keeping things spicy in the bedroom. Randy Mendez took third; he's got a disarming, ebullient stage presence that calls to mind listening to a slightly manic, very inappropriate friend share stories about his fucked-up day.
Other strong performances came from the endearingly weird Tim Hammer, whose one-liners have a way of creeping up on you; and Curtis Cook, whose brainy, dense set got laughs at both a BDSM/slavery joke and an Anne Frank joke.
For the second year in a row, there wasn't a single woman among the 10 finalists—an imbalance I'm not sure how to correct, given that winners in preliminary rounds are chosen by audience vote. (Plus, I'd be hard pressed to tell you which of this year's performers didn't deserve to be there.) It's disappointing, though, that the lineup of the final round didn't reflect the true face of Portland's stand-up community. There are female comics in Portland who could hold their own in any contest: Barbara Holm, Bri Pruett, Kristine Levine, Stacey Hallal... the list goes on. Perhaps their absence is a reminder not to take this contest too seriously—there were plenty of funny women and men who didn't make the finals.
Those who did make the finals nailed it, though. The final round was hosted by 2011 winner Ian Karmel, who recently announced his plans to pursue fame and glory in LA later this summer—and the performances last Sunday made it clear that he's leaving Portland comedy in pretty good shape.