The Portland Comedy Competition various venues, various times, through Jan 31, for more info

G od bless Randy Fischer for bringing stand-up comedy back into the limelight, at least for a little while, with the Sixth Annual Portland Comedy Competition! The hype and novelty of the event has already packed the opening-round venues, which means the comics get to perform in front of real audiences instead of the stragglers that tend to frequent open mics. They also have the opportunity to win some real money ($500), which means they'll be throwing the best material they've got.

The initial rounds feature 22 comics, with 11 performing each night. Each gets six minutes to perform their set, and the audience gives scores from one to ten at the end. The comics with the highest scores advance onward. The round I attended took place at the Gemini Bar in Lake Oswego, a town not known for its amazing nightlife. Nonetheless, the Gemini was teeming with party animals. The large crowd was particularly impressive considering they all had to pay a $5 cover to get in.

Things got started late, and by the time they did, a drunken haze was already blurring the room. It ended up being an uphill struggle for the comedians all night long, which is a good thing in a contest like this because it truly does separate the great from the merely good. The hilariously dirty Lonnie Bruhn met with his usual stellar success (for one of his jokes, he compares his wife's amazing blow jobs despite her tiny mouth to that of a "clown car"), and the chubbily endearing Eric Severson had the place in hysterics with riffs on his father's implement of punishment during car rides: "the hand of fury." Keith Wallan also turned in an impressive performance, reviving a rapidly fading crowd with an energetic stream of complaints about the American propensity to abuse the English language.

The covers for the contest's various rounds are cheap (zero to $5) and well worth it. They include an established comedian emcee, eleven highly charged comedian contestants, and another established closing act, just in case your thirst for comedy isn't quenched by evening's end. In it's own way, the Comedy Competition is some of the most vibrant, exciting, and most importantly, fun (a rarity in Portland theater) theater you will see this year. JUSTIN SANDERS

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