portland comedy

Portland’s New King of Comedy

Alex Falcone snatches the crown at Helium Comedy’s Portland’s Funniest Person Championship

Stakes were high at Helium Comedy Club’s sold-out Portland’s Funniest Person competition on Wednesday night. Twelve comedians, who had survived a month-long gauntlet, had one last chance to win over the audience and judges. After two and a half hours of stand-up, host and previous champion Caitlin Weierhauser finally passed both crown and scepter on to this year’s winner: Alex Falcone.

Alex Falcone, Portland’s new king of comedy.

Past winners of Portland’s Funniest Person, such as Ian Karmel, have gone on to receive Emmy nominations and write for late-night talk shows. Other winners, like Nathan Brannon, have recorded comedy albums and taken to the road for national tours. In addition to the invitation to open for headliners at Helium, winners also receive a comfy twelve hundred dollars. Oh yeah, and perhaps the most prestigious prize: bragging rights.

Ian Karmel: On beyond Helium.

Falcone let loose an onslaught of punchline after punchline, each stronger than the last. He packed so much material into his set, it felt like a Netflix special. His set was also the only one that was thematically coherent; it was essentially a single narrative exploration of fatherhood and family. It all led up to a great closing bit about consent: “Talking to your son about consent is important,” Falcone says, “but consent is a bare minimum. What you’re looking for is … participation. ”

Falcone took home the big win, but second-place winner Mohanad Elshieky got some of the biggest laughs of the night. Elshieky is no stranger to the competition — he was second runner-up last year, and the Portland Mercury has dubbed him an “undisputed genius of comedy.” His set was arguably the most challenging. His perceptive jokes ranged from his experience as an immigrant, to superficial liberal solidarity, to gun control.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Be yourself?

Is there such a thing as "just playing yourself" onstage? What does that mean? Plus, openings, closings, nachos, and a Terrence McNally film

Caroline, or change?

Pretend. Play-acting. Make believe. The actor’s art is a curious challenge: Use your heart and mind, body and soul, to appear to be someone else.

Fine actors do it often. And yet, something in that seeming contradiction at the essence of the art sometimes results in an odd response: “Oh, yeah, he’s a good actor, but he only plays himself.”

That’s a bit of off-the-cuff criticism I’ve heard from time to time in talking to Portland theater fans, and I’ve always been puzzled by it. What does such an assertion imply about the nature (or even the definition) of acting? Is “playing yourself” a shortcut to authenticity or a form of cheating? How do you speak someone else’s words and be yourself, anyway?

Sharonlee McLean, “a force of unearthly brilliance” in “Luna Gale.” Photo: Owen Carey

These and other questions came to mind afresh not long ago when I watched Sharonlee McLean as Caroline, an overworked social worker, in Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale, which ended its run at CoHo Theater last weekend. It was another wonderful performance on her part (and from the entire cast, for that matter), but it was her very reliability that reminded me that she’s one of the local performers about whomll I’ve heard that odd opinion: plays herself.

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Touretteshero rocks and rolls

Boom Arts hosts a hilarious, stereotype-busting comedian, who joins with Portland disability artists. One last show Saturday night: act now.

This Saturday night, May 12, is the last performance at Southeast Portland’s Echo Theatre of STAND UP, SIT DOWN, ROLL OVER by Touretteshero, a.k.a. Jess Thom – a wickedly smart, scathingly funny comedian from Great Britain. Presented by Boom Arts in a series of performances focused on disability, access and inclusion, Touretteshero’s brilliant performance invites us to rethink our stereotypes of neurological conditions and explores what it means to live with disabilities of all kinds in an environment ignorant at best and hostile at worst to many forms of diversity. You will laugh so hard that there is no time for the tears brimming beneath the surface, tears from realizing the extent of harm caused by prejudice and ableism.

Last night the boundary-breaking folks from Wobbly Dance, who showed their film Waking the Green Sound, and documentary filmmaker Cheryl Green were in attendance as well and provided valuable insights during the post-show discussion. Tonight will showcase another artist tackling forms of illness or disability: Little Clown Big Shoes, plus Lara Klingeman and her show Lara and Levi. I cannot wait to go and see the show.

About

Here are details on Saturday night’s final performance:

STAND UP, SIT DOWN, ROLL OVER

Touretteshero (United Kingdom)

May 12 at 7:30pm
Echo Theater, 1515 S.E. 37th Ave., Portland

ACCESS:

  • All events are “Relaxed”: move or make sound as you need to
  • Wheelchair-accessible venue
  • ASL interpretation provided
  • Scent-free: we request that those attending refrain from using scented body care products
  • Boom Arts, Echo Theater, and Disability Art & Culture Project are committed to creating fully inclusive environments for all attendees. Please contact the Boom Arts team with any additional requests at info@boomarts.org.

And here’s a photo gallery from Friday night’s Touretteshero performance and discussions afterwards:

 

“Touretteshero” Jess Thom in “Stand Up, Sit Down, Roll Over” Friday night at Boom Arts. Photo: Friderike Heuer

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Going with the flow

Oregon Children's Theatre's team Impulse creates improv at its best. Here's a review of the show—and a look behind the scenes.

You know an actor means business when he refers to the 2014 movie Whiplash (about a face-slapping, chair-throwing jazz conductor) as a model of a tough but successful learning experience. That’s what Hank Sanders, 17-year-old member of Oregon Children’s Theatre‘s improv team Impulse, did when I asked him about the group. “We read a book about how the best practice isn’t fun,” says Sanders. “So while I might not be always smiling and happy and be like, ‘Wow, I cannot wait for rehearsal,’ I think that’s a good sign and that we’re the best we’ve ever been.”

He has a point. Impulse’s 2018 show is improv at its finest—smoothly executed by well-trained performers, yet with a sense of weirdness that can only come from trusting your gut. I first encountered Impulse when I watched a rehearsal last month and the versatility I witnessed (the actors dreamed up comedic skits on the spot about everything from Batman to carpeting) is fully displayed in the show.

Impulse comedy-improv team 2018. Photo: Blake Wales

Impulse is a part of OCT’s Young Professionals Company, a year-long advanced acting program for students ages 14-18. The Impulse shows combine games with short and long scenes, which use audience suggestions as inspiration (the actors ask the audience beautifully bizarre questions such as, “Would you like to see a scene about a broken ruler or a crying student?”). This year’s performers are Sanders, Bryce Duncan, Isaac Ellingson, Devlin Farmer, Emma Fulmer, Nate Gardner, Onar Smith, Emma Stewart and David VanDyke.

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