Steven Wilber is Portland’s Funniest Person—at least for 2014. Wilber bested 11 other standup comics to win the title, and the $1,000 grand prize, at Helium Comedy Club’s annual competition Tuesday evening. Adam Pasi placed second, with Gabe Dinger rounding out the top three. (It was Dinger’s third straight year as a top-three finisher: He was the runner-up last year and placed third in 2012.)
The show was sold-out, which was news in and of itself for host and lame-duck Funniest Person Shane Torres, who claimed his mother wasn’t even in attendance when he earned the crown a year ago. (His mother, for the record, lives in Texas.)
The 12 finalists were among more than 150 comics who signed up for the contest, the largest number of entrants since the competition launched in 2011. Tuesday’s finals were judged by a panel that included local comedy legend Susan Rice, the crew from the Funemployment Radio podcast and others. Each competitor was granted eight minutes of stage time (they had to fill at least six) and they were judged in three areas: original material, stage presence and audience reaction.
Wilber, who's from a small town in southeastern Washington state, slayed when it came to originality. Clad in a cardigan and black tie, Wilber was the only comedian to attempt an impression of Jay-Z doing bad Christian rap. He finished his set with a handy mnemonic device for remembering the order of the presidents that was both an impressive feat of recitation and a hilarious joke.
Beyond Wilber, other finalists put in impressive sets. Local references abounded: Curtis Cook, who closed the show with one of the best sets of the evening, worked at and was fired from Fred Meyer; Jacob Christopher likes to dance at Embers and thinks Ground Kontrol has an outstanding men’s room; Christian Ricketts is familiar with the hustlers trying to get people through the door of Spyce Gentleman’s Club; and Bri Pruett delivered one of the evening’s highlights with a bit about what the Portland Trail Blazers would be like if you took the basketball out of the equation.
Perhaps most impressive was that despite some overlap in subject matter (dick jokes, day job jokes, jokes about Portland, jokes about sex), there were 12 original styles on display.
Runner-up Pasi was easily the most physical, and the loudest, nothing that would surprise anyone who has seen Pasi gig around town. Third-place finisher Dinger hit the local humor right on the nose, explaining that being a Portland native prepared him for loving the rain whilst treating the sun like a deadbeat dad. And crowd favorite Jason Traeger walked the audience through a solid eight-minute existential musing that included some deep thoughts on Hostess Blackberry Pies and butt licking.
After “eating shit”—his words—for 25 minutes as the judges calculated the final scores, Torres passed his crown to Wilber, putting Wilber in company with Nathan Brannon and Ian Karmel.
Before announcing Wilber’s win, Torres told the crowd the plans to leave Portland at the end of October. It’s an announcement Portlanders have grown accustomed to hearing from their comics, including Ian Karmel (the inaugural winner of the contest), Ron Funches and Matt Braunger.
Even so, if Tuesday’s finals were any indications, Portland’s comedy scene is more robust than ever. Maybe more mothers will be in attendance next year.