Birthed in the intimate 40-seat clubhouse theater beneath a bike shop, EQH now lives on the main floor of the same bike shop, due to the Portland Fire Marshall’s extreme aversion to fun and goodness. Every Wednesday, you can see comics from Portland and beyond at Velo Cult on the NE side of town. Bicycles hang above the stage, and occasionally an employee will be working on a bike during your set (this is frowned upon, I believe/ hope). A variety of local beers are on tap, but order a glass of wine like I do if you want to see the person behind the bar get cranky.
If the new venue seems impractical, it’s because it is. The magic of EQH is in the hosts. It’s a show that could live virtually anywhere. Portland as a scene has a wide variety of comedy shows to offer, in cool venues with solid lineups, and too many with well-meaning but ill-fitting hosts. Hosting comedy shows isn’t for everyone, to be sure, and unfortunately there’s only one way to practice. Alex Falcone (also one of Portland’s funniest and runner of multiple shows), Bri Pruett, Anthony Lopez, and Curtis Cook masterfully co-host Earthquake Hurricane and have banked much of the show’s success on their own chemistry and likability, as they should. Any potential dud on the lineup has the benefit of a stockpile of great comics to bring the room back.
I have a feeling EQH may soon need a new home, and certainly a new lineup of hosts, as all of the current producers should have been in LA like, last year already. But for now, you can see the gang every Wednesday for a $5 suggested donation at Velo Cult. Follow them at @EQHComedy for updates.
No Pun Intendo
Simultaneously one of the best and the absolute WORST comedy shows in Portland, No Pun Intendo happens in the corner bar area of Ground Kontrol, a bar arcade downtown, and one of Portland’s most wonderful places. You might be asking yourself, how do they turn off all those videogame machines to create an appropriate setting for a stand-up comedy show? THE ANSWER IS THEY FUCKING DON’T. No Pun Intendo has given comedians panic attacks of varying gravity, but it’s the show to see if you really want to see us TRY. There IS an audience. Sure, sometimes it’s only 9 or 10 people gathered in the corner, but those people are all in. They’ve dosed up their Adderall for the night and are for a brief period hyper-focused on comedy, not games. It’s a great challenge for comedians—an exercise in hard consonants, volume control gimmicks, and the confidence to believe those seven people are really really with us, which is somehow psychologically so much harder on the ego than staring into a room of 200 total wildcards. It’s where you can see a comic give everything she has.
The shows are carefully curated, with a lot of care put into booking lineups that represent a range of comedic styles, backgrounds, hometowns, genders, and ethnicities, which seems like an obvious thing to do but plenty of comedy show producers really don’t give a fuck. Other rareties: each month’s show has a custom collectible poster, and comics get paid in real American dollars. Hosted by the extremely charismatic and newly-appointed Nariko Ott, No Pun happens the 3rd Thursday of each month around 9-ish, and it’s only 3 bucks (that’s where we get the dollars). Ground Kontrol also has great nachos, and you can usually visit the classic Tetris machine to see my initials in all the high score spots (pointless brag).
Their Facebook page here is probably the best spot for current dates and lineups.
Control Yourself at Alberta St. Pub
Joann Schinderle is a soldier of the comedy scene in Portland. A mere 2 years into standup, our loudmouthed midwestern buttercup showed up in town and started running shit. Two Sundays a month at Alberta Street Pub, Joann dutifully hosts a free showcase of Portland’s best comics, often sticking around to also host a million-years long open mic directly after the show. The pub is in the very trendy (see: gentrified) Alberta Arts District and the bar is classy enough to feel like home but not so cool that you hate everyone there. Regular dudes, beer snobs, uggos, hotties, and social weirdos are all welcome at ASP.
Separated from the main bar, the stage sits in a darkened room through a heavy wooden door and a thick black curtain, adding just enough of that Eyes Wide Shut feeling you need when walking into a comedy show. If someone you hate starts telling jokes, it’s easy enough to escape to ASP’s large back patio or a cozy booth in the front bar where you can enjoy one of Portland’s best burgers, or a moscow mule made by Steven, arguably one of Portland’s best bartenders. And not only is the show free, but the comics get paid for their time.
After Joann’s long slog building Control Yourself into a popular show, and turning Alberta St into a reliable comedy venue, other producers in town began to take note, including local festival All Jane, and indie label Kill Rock Stars who will host their first album recording in the venue for Portland comedian Nathan Brannon. Again, a charismatic host and a carefully curated lineup makes all the difference here. And the weekly open mic following the show has helped to grow the Portland comedy community, giving new kids a chance to watch some of the senior class for free, right before trying out their own stuff. Control Yourself happens 2 Sundays a month at Alberta St. Pub.
In case you’ve never visited Portland, or you have but don’t have working eyeballs in your face, it’s a very white town. The latest census puts the population at about 76% white-identifying, so let’s assume 78% to account for those 2% of awful Portland white people who were like “I don’t see race” and/or only checked Native American because their grandma said her grandma may have been a little bit Choctaw or something. The demographics of the comedy scene pretty closely match up to the census, if not even skewing a bit whiter. And unfortunately like almost every city’s comedy scene, it can be somewhat segregated. Even being asked to write this guide, I was like shit, I’m probably gonna unknowingly exclude a bunch of people outside of my immediate social circle like a real white asshole. Though a few showcases in town (see above) do our best to book a diverse lineup under these circumstances, producer Jason Lamb and comedian Jeremy Eli were like, cool but nah but how about we just make our own show. One of the more cleverly-named shows in town, Minority Retort is a monthly showcase and welcoming space for comedians of color from Portland, the Bay Area, and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. As a non-white comedy fan in Oregon, outside of seeing a specific headliner at one of the clubs, it had been nearly impossible to see a lineup of non-white comedians. And if you’re dumb enough to think this isn’t a necessity for black and brown folks living in a mostly white town, go check out the downright gleeful faces on the Minority Retort audience every month. The crowds reflect the mission of the show and even during some of the greener comics’ performances, the vibe stays supportive. Everybody that shows up just seems so happy the show exists, especially the comics. One sweet night of respite from white bullshit in the whitest major city in America…ahhhh that must feel good. The show provides a night for people of color to be heard loud and clear in a town that often prevents just that. Currently, Minority Retort lives at Curious Comedy Theater monthly and it’s only 7 bucks in advance. Follow their Twitter @IMinorityRetort for the latest.
This is arguably the best comedy showcase in Portland, and I’m not just saying that because it’s my show. Yes I am. But this is not the New York Times so if you were looking for an unbiased guide, you can kiss my grits. I would be totally remiss in leaving Midnight Ma$$ off of this list, whether it was my show or not. Midnight Ma$$ is a monthly shit show in a Southeast Portland clown-themed bar (there is one room dedicated to creepy clown paintings) where faithful night owls show up month after month, many of them hoping for a celebrity drop-in but supporting the non-famous comics in the meantime. It’s the only show in town that has boasted the likes of Dave Attell, Norm Macdonald, Laurie Kilmartin, Kurt Braunohler and Rory Scovel. We don’t have a special celebrity every month but it’s become a show that comics travel long distances to perform on, which is very sweet but ridiculous because it’s at midnight!
The show has a cheeky religious theme and some mildly religious elements including giant stained glass crosses on stage, and a peace-be-with-you style ritual at the top of the show, wherein drunken comedy fans meet each other and practice social skills. Occasionally I, as the host, will take anonymous confessions from the audience which have ranged from the totally innocuous (stealing supplies from work) to the completely horrifying (date rape). Rounding out the multi-denominational church vibe is our in-house grumpy old Jew, and Portland’s favorite pianist, Ira Novos. Born out of the same Chicago comedy era that produced Emo Philips and Judy Tenuta, Ira is a staple of the Portland comedy scene and would absolutely hate that I am mentioning him. Luckily, our charming and constant state of conflict has become a central element of the show.
Midnight Ma$$ happens monthly at the Funhouse Lounge until I move away, and it’s free! (Donations encouraged). Follow @midnightmasspdx for show dates and lineups.
Lez Stand Up
About a year into being on the Portland scene, I started to meet some new women who were funny already, and didn’t understand where they had come from. Were they ghosts? Turns out some of my new favorites in Portland comedy—like Caitlin Weierhauser, Kirsten Kuppenbender, and Laure Anne Whitley—had been hiding away doing comedy in a magical wonderland of their own smash hit queer feminist monthly showcase, Lez Stand Up. Despite these ladies now having emerged onto the mainstream comedy scene in town, the original show goes on. If you’re looking for a show that’s funny, where you also will never be made fun of for who you are, and everyone in the room is drunk on happiness and community, Lez Stand Up is a good one to check out. The shows frequently sell out so I’d urge you to buy tickets in advance.
As someone who is already fully brainwashed by the mostly white male dominated comedy landscape, some part of me is bummed that there are hilarious female comics in town who may not always be interested in doing my shows or breaking into the mainstream comedy scene here, when they can just keep doing their already successful shows for a steadily supportive crowd. Then again, as a lady in comedy I spend a lot of time miserable, bemoaning my own perceived lack of opportunity, so what the fuck do I know? As of late, comics like Lea Delaria, whom most straights weren’t even aware of until we all binge-watched OITNB, have proven that there is a career to be had within the queer stand-up circuit. In fact, Delaria was the first openly gay comic on late night. So again, what the hell do I know. I just selfishly want to see these ladies perform as much as I can. I guess I will join you at Lez Stand Up, which happens once a month and is soon moving to the Kickstand Comedy Space at the newly opened Siren Theater downtown. Follow them at @LezStandUp for news!
Helium Comedy Club Wednesday Shows
In another town, it might make me seem like a real company man to be out here shilling for the comedy club. But in Helium, Portland comics have been given the rare gift of a comedy club that gives a damn about its local talent. Sure, you can go to Helium any weekend if you want to see headliners you know or a guy who won that TV talent competition, but if you want to see what happens when a local show idea puts on its big-girl pants, Wednesday nights at Helium should be your new shit. Wednesdays currently rotate a variety of non-standard show formats that local comics puked out of our Vitamin-D deprived brain parts.
Operations Manager Adam Triplett, a dedicated comedy fan himself, lovingly shepherds local comics and their show ideas out of whatever hellhole they previously lived in, giving them a nice warm bed at the comedy club, even putting some of Helium’s own marketing engine behind each show. Some of the Wednesday show hosts are not yet paid to work at the club, and as comics we see these shows as an investment in our scene, a vote of confidence in our ideas, and a willingness to watch us grow. Adam even makes himself available for advice, helps with re-working show ideas, and can be found doing everything from seating people to booting people who yell at us, to running the soundboard and projection for the local shows—a combined effort far beyond what most comedy club managers would ever offer their local talent. And with the comics who have recently come out of Portland, this investment is starting to look like it could have some decent returns. Here are some of the best of those Wednesday shows.
Funny Humans Vs. The Wheel
Hosted and conceived by Portland comedy’s funniest teddy bears, David Mascorro and Adam Pasi (a Chicago Mexican and an Oregonian Samoan), Funny Humans vs. The Wheel is a very different show each month. Both quite loud, annoyingly lovable, and two of the best comics in Portland, David and Adam host a choose-your-own-adventure style standup showcase. Comics spin a wheel and are faced with challenges interspersed with their regular set, such as Sing Your Set (my personal fave), Hype Man (Adam Pasi stands behind the comic, yelling random supportive shit like a hip hop hype man), and Catchphrase, in which comics have to coin their own comedy catchphrase on the spot and pepper it into their sets. HAAAAM-BURGER! The show is tons of fun.
Dirty dozen is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s 12 comedians telling their dirtiest material and is consistently one of the best attended Wednesday shows at Helium, largely due to the pervy nature of your average Portlander. While the subject matter ranges from rock bottom drug and alcohol stories to amateur porn experiments to asshole-licking, there is always an occasional comic that you watch and are not exactly sure if that person has ever sinned. Sometimes those are the funniest sets. Tho for some of us who have gone on the Dirty Dozen and told some of our most embarrassing stories like maybe hypothetically having period sex with a Baltimore Raven, it’s a shame when comics don’t take full advantage of the format. Either way the show is hilarious and dutifully hosted by the extremely depraved and ginger Jacob Christopher who will always provide enough raunch to make up for any innocents who may have stumbled onto the lineup.
Stand-Up for Yourself! with Amy Miller
OK, listen, did you think that Paste would ask someone to write about Portland comedy who wasn’t running a bunch of shit? Yes, this is also my show and it’s fucking great. Stand-Up For Yourself is a monthly hybrid stand-up / talk show, on which comics do 5 or 7 minutes of material and then sit down for a hard-hitting interview and some horribly cheesy daytime talk show-style games. We’ve had live kittens on the show, I once gave the entire crowd a psychological exam, and pulled a surprise dating game on local comic Zak Toscani, which he hated! My favorite and the only recurring bit on the show is called Getting Posi with Pasi, and it’s just Adam Pasi running around the room yelling as many compliments at the crowd as he can in two minutes. It’s very uplifting! Stand-Up For Yourself is a great show if you like to participate, if you love joy but also vulnerability, and if you ever wanted to know what the fuck is wrong with your favorite local comedians.
True Tall Tales with Don Frost
Don Frost is the wacky uncle of the Portland comedy scene, a dude who seems like he should be a Quaid. He’s one of those guys that can make literally anything funny, and always has a story that sounds made up, but you know it isn’t because you know he’s insane in that really great drinking buddy way. Tall Tales is the only story-telling show currently at Helium and it’s where you can hear the director’s cut versions of our jokes, plus other crazy stories from comedians’ lives of depravity and poor decision-making.
Formerly hosted by town weirdo Steven Wilber, who recently defected to Los Angeles, Test Tube is now in the capable and lanky hands of Phil Schallberger, one of Portland’s best comics and master of PowerPoint and character comedy. Comics bring their most experimental, abstract, and character-driven comedy, much of which has not been tested in front of a crowd previously. Go see it if you need a break from traditional stand-up, or even just to see Phil, who is worth the 5 bucks on his own. Even ten dollars, I’d say! Not 20. Let’s not get crazy. 20 someday though.
Reading the Bible With Dan
Local comedian Dan Weber, a grumpy ass metalhead and former Christian, regularly deals with some of the darkest material in Portland comedy. Pulling no punches talking about his religious upbringing and childhood molestation, Dan has dragged the church right along through his stand-up mud. Also a podcast, Reading the Bible with Dan features several panels of comedians commenting on passages from your mom’s favorite book. Probably the best thing about this show is the people who show up thinking it’s a Christian comedy event, and watching their faces slowly grow pale in horror as they realize what’s happening.
Hosted by a dapper and terrifying Russian man named Anatoli Brant who got his comedy chops in San Francisco, Comedy Bull is a competitive stand-up showcase on which each comic has to improv jokes based on specific challenges. The Helium version is the final showcase of winners from previous Comedy Bulls, so this show brings out only the best of Portland’s on-the-fly joke tellers.