STEVEN WILBER grew up in Eastern Washington and moved to Portland in 2008. Three years ago, he went to his first comedy open mic at the Boiler Room. Last Tuesday, July 22, he placed first at Helium Comedy Club's annual Portland's Funniest Person contest, with a brilliantly odd set that included awkward rapping and a series of high-concept mnemonic devices for remembering the order of the planets. We asked him questions. He answered.
MERCURY: How do you feel about winning Portland's Funniest Person?
WILBER: I didn't see it coming. In the previous years, Ian Karmel and Nathan Brannon and Shane Torres winning was sort of like, oh, duh. And [this year] it really could've gone any way. Everybody just killed it. So when I heard Gabe Dinger's name, then Adam Pasi's, I was like okay, here we go: Amy Miller or Bri Pruett or Curtis Cook. And then it was my name.
It does make it feel more like a contest, rather than a blanket statement about who the funniest person in Portland is.
You didn't feel like you had a winning set?
No... I'm my own worst critic, though.
Why did you start doing comedy?
Because it was the scariest thing I could think of doing. I thought if I did stand-up then I could do anything. I figured, if I did the scariest thing, if I just went up there... I gave myself a number: Seven open mics. If I could do seven open mics and eat shit seven times, then I could do anything.
Why did you stick with it after seven?
I just liked it. I like the control of it—that you don't have to rely on anyone else to do it. Well, other than the audience.
What's your writing process like?
I usually drink a 5-Hour Energy and go for a walk. I'm usually walking to an open mic when I'll think of an idea, and then I can sit down and write something out.
What are your goals with comedy?
I'd been setting little goals. The next one I had was to get on Funny Over Everything. [He's on that bill August 8—eds.] And then probably a couple goals down the road, win Portland's Funniest Person contest. Eventually move to LA. I'd like to write for TV. It's hard to just be a touring standup.
What are your interests outside of comedy?
Nerd stuff. Comics and videogames and sci-fi television programs.
You don't talk much about your personal life onstage. Why not?
Every time I do I don't like how it turns out, and I don't feel like it does very well. It's not natural. My personality is a not-talk-about-personal-stuff personality.
The Portland comedy scene seems like a supportive group.
I don't think I'd be here if it wasn't. My first night at Boiler Room was Richard Bain*'s last open mic in Portland before he moved to LA. I went up second and afterward he was like, "good set." That's probably what did it.
Have you ever had a moment where you considered quitting?
One of them, like my third or fourth open mic, at the Brody Theater. It was real bad. I almost stopped doing it then.
Why did you go back?
We should talk about Vine. Aren't you like, Vine famous?
Vine doesn't connect with my standup very well because most of the people on Vine aren't allowed in bars.
How much work goes into those? It varies. There was a time when I was putting way too much into them, with, like, special effects in real time... I don't Vine so much anymore.
Is there anything else that you want to say to a lady who is typing everything you say?
*Fun Portland comedy trivia: Richard Bain, who still lives in LA but got his start in Portland, was just accepted into the Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival's New Faces showcase—eds.