Earlier this month, Helium Comedy Club held a roast.
The idea of the Dirty Roast was to pit local comedians against each other in a bracket-style tournament. Comics launched acerbic barbs at each other in a gladiatorial battle to become the last comic standing.
Philip Schallberger took a more literal approach: He placed two pork roasts on opposing sides of the stage. Cannons sent volleys of carrots and celery at each side as the two hunks of meat went at it. When it was all said and done, one pork roast had slipped off its plate. The dirtiest roast of the night.
"I'm bored with straight standup," Schallberger says. "It's been done—and done well— for a long time, but I like doing something different."
"I felt kinda bad about ruining that roast," he adds.
Schallberger has carved out a reputation as the Portland comedy scene's resident oddball. He's crafted erotic Matlock fan fiction. He's choked a man-horse onstage for two minutes. He's led an audience in singing "I Need a Ride" to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne." Schallberger weaves together PowerPoints and audio files and bizarre characters to tap into the creative id of Portlanders.
At Cup & Bar on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the lanky 26-year-old stands wearing a gray hoodie and jeans. An eccentric onstage, Schallberger in person is a down-to-earth, unassuming comedy nerd. He's just as excited to talk about Eagleheart or Andy Daly's Comedy Central show Review as he is his own material. Schallberger has been doing comedy for 8½ years, dating back to his days as a high-school kid performing in coffee shops.
"I wasn't the class clown," he says. "I wasn't popular enough. I was just a funny guy."
He counts Peter Serafinowicz, Eugene Mirman and Daly as some of his greatest influences. He says seeing Mirman perform in Portland while he was in high school was one of the defining moments of his early comedy career.
Schallberger's act has evolved significantly through the years. His set at Sketchfest Seattle in 2013 revolved around a 15-minute audio file that ran through a series of seemingly unconnected, self-effacing self-promotions, commercial and film-trailer parodies, and even a knock-knock anti-joke from his high-school days. Sometimes he delivered the jokes, sometimes they came from the file playing on his phone.
These days, he's been incorporating PowerPoint presentations. It takes him several hours to put together these presentations—he prefers to write his material at least a week in advance—but the results are well worth it.
Hobo Tom, one of Schallberger's most endearing characters, is a composite of several people he's met, including his uncle. Schallberger adopts a gruff, guttural voice as the lights go out and the blue type of his PowerPoint presentation is projected on a black backdrop. It's time for the Hobo Tom Show.
The slides switch seemingly at random from audience instructions ("APPLAUSE") to Hobo Tom's excitement ("Yaay") to the show's sponsors ("snakes, the number two-ty three") to three-part acronyms. This cavalcade of absurdity culminates in the aforementioned sing-along about Hobo Tom's need for a ride home that changes tempo from "Auld Lang Syne" to a rapid patter with a thumbnail of Hobo Tom bouncing from word to randomly placed word on the screen. The seven-minute set moves so quickly that the audience has no time for each slide to sink in before Schallberger moves on.
And that, in a nutshell, is Schallberger's humor. He likes to keep the audience off-balance, such as when he choked Klaus Klaus the Shame Horse onstage for two minutes earlier this year. Schallberger abhors violence as comedy, but he wanted to see how the audience would react. And instead of roasting other comedians, he'd rather roast roasts.
"I'm not sensitive to how other people act when I'm onstage," he says. "If a joke doesn't work, it doesn't work."
The low-key, offbeat and inventive nature of Schallberger's humor has endeared him to Portlanders. Whether he's announcing that tonight's performance is brought to you by the Snake Council or he's launching carrots out of a cannon at a pork roast, you get the feeling that not only is this delightfully absurd, but you may never see it again.
At Sketchfest Seattle two years ago, Schallberger ended his set by ripping off his plaid button-up shirt to reveal the same shirt underneath. A friend later told him a comedian had done a similar joke with pants shortly before. Schallberger hasn't performed the joke since.
"It's just parallel thought," he says. "I'm happy to let [the other comedian] own the joke. I'd rather just keep trying to do new things."
GO: Willamette Week's third annual Funniest Five Showcase is at Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St., on Monday, Nov. 30. 7 pm. $5. For tickets, visit bit.ly/wwfunniestfive.