Local stand-up comedians competed in the semi-final rounds of Helium Comedy Club’s Fourth Annual Portland’s Funniest Person Contest on Tuesday, July 8 and Wednesday, July 9.
The competition started with nearly 170 contestants, the largest number of participants for the event to date.
“We have far more comics than ever before,” said Helium Operations Manager Adam Triplett. “In all the clubs, too. It seems like Portland comedy really took a leap.”
Helium General Manager Shana Delwiche commented on the level of professionalism she has seen in this year’s competition.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed by the talent this year in particular,” Delwiche said. “It’s basically everybody that did really well last year, plus some people I’ve never seen who have been really impressive on stage.”
Audiences voted 40 comics through semi-final rounds in the week prior. For semi-finals, a panel of six judges narrowed the contestants from 40 down to 12 people who will move on to the final round tonight.
The comedians competing in the final round are Amy Miller, Sean Jordan, Gabe Dinger, Jason Traeger, Christian Ricketts, Stephanie Purtle, Anthony Lopez, Bri Pruett, Adam Pasi, Jacob Christopher, Steven Wilber and Curtis Cook.
Comedians are judged on original material, stage presence and audience reaction. Judges for the contest included local Portland community members.
Charlene Conley, executive producer of the Bridgetown and All Jane No Dick comedy festivals, acted as a judge this year.
“I think looking at the competition this year compared to last year, people have really kicked it up a notch,” Conley said. “It’s way stiffer competition. Not that the people who were in it last year aren’t funny, but the people who are here again have progressed on such a scale.”
Hutch Harris, lead singer of Portland band The Thermals, was also a judge.
“I see so many people trying out new stuff all the time, that to see them go up there and really kill it is awesome,” Harris said.
Previous winners Nathan Brannon and Shane Torres hosted the semi-final rounds. Brannon, who won the title in 2012, discussed some of the ways the contest can help a comedian’s career.
“It’s gotten me a lot of work,” Brannon added. “It was because of Portland’s Funniest that I started opening for [Dave] Chappelle.”
Ian Karmel, the winner in 2011, went on to write for E! Television’s Chelsea Lately. Shane Torres, the winner in 2013, performed at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival and recently competed in NBC’s Last Comic Standing.
Triplett said that advancing in the competition helps comedians gain confidence and exposure.
“It’s a nice credit to carry around for someone who is trying to grow their way out of Portland,” Triplett said.
Helium Comedy Club has locations in Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where similar contests are hosted.
“It’s kind of like the club itself puts their faith in you,” Brannon said. “They put their faith in your ability to write jokes and perform, and they stand by you because [you’re] Helium’s funniest person. So anywhere you go, their name is attached. It motivates you to keep working and to keep getting new material.”
Finalist Stephanie Purtle discussed her experience as a comedian in Portland.
“This scene incubates beautiful people saying really great things, and I’m really proud to be a part of it,” Purtle said. “As a result we have some really amazing comics compared to some other places.”
Delwiche said that the finalists who have advanced will make the judges’ jobs very difficult.
“The finals are going to be brutal,” Triplett added. “After seeing the comics who have gone through, the finalists are twelve of the best comics in Portland. It’s going to be tough.”
Brannon said the comedians competing in the finals are some of his favorite to watch.
“Portland’s a hard place to pinpoint one or two people because everyone is so talented and everyone works so hard,” Brannon said.
The twelve finalists will compete for the title of Portland’s Funniest Person at Helium Comedy Club tonight at 8 p.m.