"REPETITION IS THE FATHER of learning," or so says Lil Wayne. In the case of Ian Karmel, winner of the 2010 Portland Amateur Comedy Contest, it's true—performing almost every night for an entire month has paid dividends.

"I've never felt better about my act," says Karmel, who is buoyed by his win and the $500 that came with it.

At times the contest felt like a slog, which was exactly the point: The idea was to replicate what it takes to be a professional, touring comedian. Contest co-organizer Lonnie Bruhn's goal was to prepare—and prod—Portland's young stand-up talent to take the next step. Bruhn won the contest in 1991 and used the momentum to kick start his career. He's encouraging the 25-year-old Karmel to do the same.

Upon first seeing Karmel, I was struck—he was direct, engaging, and in full control. And while there was a wealth of talent involved in the contest, Karmel's act cut straight for laughs. "Mine is sort of more traditional stand-up comedy," he says. "I'm not trying to deconstruct anything in the art form."

Karmel's act touches on a partly accidental move to South Central, mustache etiquette, his own mountain-sized frame, and the travails of pot versus alcohol. He mostly avoids politics, which played well in a contest that spent half its time in Gresham.

That thin cultural divide derailed a number of Portland-centric comics. But not Karmel, who grew up in Beaverton. "They weren't always bad crowds—and not everybody lives downtown," he adds. "People want to laugh just the same."