Ron Funches recently discovered that one of his jokes had made it onto Saturday Night Live. To his surprise, a bit he had written years ago showed up in John Mulaney's monologue.
When Mulaney hosted the show earlier this month, he told a joke about captcha security questions. On Funches' 2015 debut album, The Funches of Us, there's a joke with the exact same premise: "Why do I always have to prove to a robot that I'm not a robot?"
"I was extremely flattered, to tell you the truth," says Funches, calling from his home in LA. "I know Mulaney, and I've traveled with him, so it would be one thing if I was like, 'Oh, he heard me do this thing and he stole it.' But I don't think it's that case at all. I hear more and more people doing those captcha bits. I just did it ahead of the curve."
Captcha jokes might be a relatively obscure comedy trend, but it hints at the secret to Funches' steady stream of success since he left Portland six years ago—he is always several steps ahead of you, and usually in the direction you'd least expect.
To a certain degree, subverting expectations is just part of who Funches is. Before immortalizing the joke on his album and in one of his many Conan appearances, Funches would often follow up his signature titter with the line, "You're not used to a large black man that giggles like an Asian princess?" But Funches' broad smile and cutesy demeanor are usually a veneer hiding some deeply strange shit. In Mulaney's robot joke, the premise is essentially the punch line. But Funches' version only continues to somersault. He imagines asking his toaster to prove that it's not his friend Craig, and then, in the final twist, it's revealed that the toaster Funches has been talking to actually is Craig. "Why didn't you say something when I put that Pop Tart in you?" he says, before capping off the joke with his impish laugh.
This weekend, Funches is returning to the state where he got his start for Undertow Comedy Festival in Lincoln City. Founded by Portland comedians Amanda Arnold and Tory Ward, the festival's inaugural run coincides with Portland's first year without Bridgetown Comedy Festival in 10 years. The lineup is composed of most of Portland's comedy scene, plus non-local Bridgetown regulars like Ron Lynch, Shane Mauss and Laurie Kilmartin.
Even though Funches is an Oregon expat, his headlining set is somewhat of a rare get for the new festival. Many of his contemporaries who have found success outside the city, like Ian Karmel and Bridgetown co-founder Matt Braunger, return so often they still have a presence in the local scene. Funches last performed at Bridgetown in 2014, and a lot has changed since then. He's a guest on Conan so frequently, he's basically a co-host. In addition to releasing The Funches of Us, he's written for Kroll Show, and co-starred in the animated movie Trolls alongside Justin Timberlake.
But he's at yet another juncture in his career. He's a contestant in every episode of Reggie Watts' game show, Taskmaster, which premiered earlier this month on Comedy Central, and this June, he'll record his first hourlong special for Comedy Central in Seattle. Less than two years after the NBC show that Funches starred in, Undateable, was canceled, he has another sitcom in the works based on his own life, though Funches says it's too early to reveal any details.
Even if his career is about to blow up yet again, Funches sounds perfectly content. "I don't think it will ever really change," he says about his material. "I just like talking about my life and what I love and whatever is going on for me at the time."
That's partially because Funches never seems to run out of bizarrities to mine from the would-be banal. He frequently delivers punch lines with pauses between words, milking a scene for all its absurdity: "I did see something really horrible recently. I saw a gentleman on a bus with a tattoo on his neck that just read…'Fuck'…'Linda.' That guy…hates….Linda."
Funches' idiosyncrasies have only made him stand out more in recent years, particularly his aversion to topical humor. "Unless you're really, really smart or really. really savvy, you're not really adding to things, you're just wantoing people to agree with you," he says. "'I don't like this guy, you don't like him either!' Like, what else you got?"
His career has grown so much in the six years since he left Portland, it feels more self-serving than accurate to continue to claim Funches as a product of Portland comedy. Besides, Funches didn't come up in Portland comedy so much as pave the way for it.
"Now, there's a ground floor. There's Helium, there was a festival, there's all these things that weren't there when I started," says Funches. "You didn't have this massive need to get on Conan or whatever. It wasn't even really thought of, which in a lot of ways was great. But now people have a map of how to do it."
Still, Funches hasn't exactly forsaken his former city.
"I would always hope that [Portland] claims me," says Funches. "But I don't like to go back. I like to go forward."
SEE IT: Ron Funches performs at the Undertow Comedy Festival in Lincoln City. Thursday-Saturday, April 26-28. See undertowcomedy.com for venues and a full schedule. $39-$99.