Portland comedy has had it too good for too long. The benevolent Arlo Weierhauser—2017 Portland’s Funniest Person, host of the Mercury’s I, Anonymous show, and founding member of local comedy collective Lez Stand Up—reigned confidently and with kindness over Portland’s comedy scene these past few years. Theirs was the disposition of a charming uncle with compelling stories, sharp jokes, and an irate bemusement at Portland’s enduring weird. But things are picking up for our Arlo. They're in the upcoming film, Timmy Failure, which will debut with Disney’s upcoming streaming service. And at a summer comedy showcase Just For Laughs, New Faces: Unrepped Weierhauser finally gained representation. Now they're heading south to LA, in search of career glory. Weierhauser was kind enough to agree to an exit interview, during which the Mercury employed last-ditch emotional blackmail in an effort to get them to stay.
MERCURY: All my questions are some variation of “Why are you leaving? They won’t appreciate you.”
WEIERHAUSER: It’s true. Okay well, doing stand-up is one piece of a hopeful career in entertainment. Stand-up is accessible and easy to get into and the entry point is wide-open, but if you want to stay in it and hopefully build some kind of career in acting or writing or continuing stand-up there’s only so much you can do in a place like Portland. It’s a great way to get into comedy. It’s one big piece, but not the only piece.
People love love love to ask, “Are you full time? Are you professional?” Having a day job is considered, like, “I guess you’re not taking it seriously then.” And I’m like, “Oh no! Oh no no no no.” I’m doing stand-up every night. But there’s not enough money here to sustain an eating and rent-paying habit.
What film about a bright-eyed young thing moving to LA do you predict your move will most resemble?
I hope it’s a transition from Slums of Beverly Hills to Clueless.
Was this always the plan? Was it always 1) Stand-up 2) Disney movie 3) LA?
When did this become the plan?
There’s a collective knowledge base in stand-up. People that have more experience will sometimes let you pick their brains. I have been fortunate to work with some caring, invested headliners. If you’re smart at all, you listen to people that have gone before you.
Studies have shown that people are happiest when they live in mid-sized cities near water. Why don’t you want to be happy?
Yeah, why aren’t Portlanders all happy?
I’m happy! I’m very happy!
Talk to me in February.
This seems like as good a time as any to give you an opportunity to air grievances with the city of Portland. You can name names.
Good before the bad, the audiences here are just incredible. I have more fun with people in Portland than I do anywhere else. They will come with you on the most insane premises.
As a person living in Portland, oh my goodness. It drives me nuts how nervous and non-confrontational everyone is all the time! It makes me so uncomfortable. A whole city of socially awkward people and then the three people on the street that aren’t socially awkward SHOULD BE because they’re up to so much. There’s no middle ground.
Do you greet people on the street? Do you make eye contact?
As necessary. When I say non-confrontational I mean like directly in response to something wild happening. People are so afraid of looking at, acknowledging, and talking to each other. No one would speak up and say like, “Pajamas are unacceptable [to wear out]. I’m sorry.”
Any college town has a problem with people wearing pajamas. Are you just mad at the crunchy? Are you talking about the men wearing full camo gear and like a billion tiny mirrors in front of their face so they can see what’s behind them?
Yeah and no one will be like, “You look so dumb! What are you doing? NERD.” You do have to seek to find something to hate about Portland, but I’ve done my work.
I’ve heard you call Portland “sensitive” in your stand-up. Are we too sensitive? Is that why you’re leaving us?
Portland is sensitive. And I like the sensitivity. Portland can be overly-empathetic, which can be a little frustrating when you’re performing because any mention of struggle or hardship whatsoever and you just get a sea of “AWWWWWWW.” And you’re like, “No, I’m fine! Let’s get through this. Don’t fall apart on me. We just started!”
Are there jokes you cut in Portland because they’re too empathy-inducing?
It’s more a matter of finesse. I tell this story about going skydiving and being embarrassed and I’ve had to tweak it to find that balance. Show them the level of uncomfortable without tripping them up with empathy and making them go through it. I’ll try to hit them with a silly line before it and then sneak the discomfort in. Finding that balance for how much I can say without them groaning. Or fearing for my safety and well-being. Portland audiences hate to hear when people are discriminated against but they also love it. [Weierhauser affects shocked gasps] They love to hear about it. They love to be concerned for you.
Do you have to retool your set in LA? Are you like skydiving and those heartless motherfuckers are just sitting there stone-faced like “and?”
The biggest difference is that in Portland you get so much more time. You’ll get a 20-minute set rather than a three-minute set. So I can’t tell an 11-minute story—which is unreasonable by the way, to have an 11-minute story. Portland audiences, my goodness.
That's like podcast length. But Portlanders love podcasts.
[Weierhauser screams with affection and frustration]
How do you write stand-up? Do you have a comedy writer’s group?
It’s open mics. I’m cooking ideas that I test in the middle of sets. Like, well this is going well. Lemme see if I can also finesse a new joke—oh no, you hate that? Okay, let’s go back to good material! You do, like, the shit sandwich. Hide the new shit in the middle.
On Amy Miller’s Who’s Your God podcast, you were still on the fence about the move and talking about New York City as a place to explore “ballbusting humor.” Do you want to be a ballbuster?
Yeah, I’ve been called it enough. One of the things about coming up in stand-up—and I don’t think it’s specific to Portland—was being called “intimidating.” It was one of my favorite things in the world. These little dudes at open mics would pull me aside and be like “Uh, do you know how intimidating you are?” And I’m like “Apparently not enough, sweetheart. Get the fuck away from me. What are you doing?”
Do you think Portland is changing?
The city is updating. I don’t know how radical the change is. Considering the last five years, I think the five years before that were far more radical. We have an insane number of bougie ice cream places, but the number over the last five years hasn’t increased all that much. The five years before that had way more bougie ice cream growth.
[Editor's note: This interview has been updated to reflect a name change of the artist.]