Alex Falcone's most fulfilling moment as a comedian didn't happen while he was onstage. It wasn't post-set, either. It was when a former standup student of his, Mohanad Elshieky, made his late-night debut on Conan earlier this year—an accomplishment Falcone himself had not yet achieved.
"Having people succeed beyond what I am doing," says the 35-year-old Reno, Nev., native, "and watching Mo is probably the proudest I've been as a comedy person."
But the teacher is not far behind his prodigy. Falcone will soon make his first talk show appearance, having just filmed a routine for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert that he's been honing since spring. While the set doesn't yet have an air date, the appearance marks the culmination of Falcone's achievements as a Portland comic.
After moving to town more than a decade ago, and telling jokes on the city's stages for almost the same amount of time, Falcone—named one of WW's Funniest Five in 2015 and the winner of Helium's annual Portland's Funniest Person competition just last year—is relocating to Los Angeles.
Before he goes, he'll headline a farewell performance, titled "Alexit," at Helium this weekend. He also took the time to reflect on his time in Portland with WW.
WW: What was it like developing as a comedian in Portland?
Alex Falcone: I say this knowing that I did not try coming up as a comedian anywhere else, but it feels to me like Portland was the perfect place to do that because it's the right size to have a lot of shows, but not so big that you could be lost forever. If you're good, people will notice and you'll get to do stuff right away.
The thing that traveling comedians complain about when they come to Portland is that audiences there are very empathetic—maybe too empathetic—where if you say something that sounds a little sad, the entire audience goes, "Awww." Sometimes that can throw comedians off their rhythm when they're used to everyone assuming they're lying about everything. But if you come up in it, it trains you as a performer to be aware of the audience and keep their emotional journey in mind when you're writing. I don't know if this is what everyone would say, but I think of myself as doing a Portland style of comedy.
Can you describe "Portland-style" comedy?
Yeah, I haven't actually said that before, so now I have to figure out what I mean by that. I feel like it's more audience connected. There's a hint of wokeness without it being super political. People say "sensitive" all the time, and they mean that as a bad thing. But I think of it more as audience-attuned standup.
A lot of comics are focused on self-improvement, but you've taught comedy and mentored people over the years. What motivates the desire to nurture other talent?
There's the obvious part, which is money. What I realized real fast, though, is that besides doing comedy, my second-favorite thing is talking about comedy. When the people I was teaching started having success, I found that really rewarding. It's probably the same instincts that make me care about the audience, where I try to nurture their experience, is the way I like nurturing a comic and connecting them with the audience and comedy itself. That sounds pretentious, but it's totally true.
When you were one of WW's Funniest Five in 2015, you rated your comedy right around a 7. Would you reassess that score?
Every time I get better at one thing, it makes it obvious that I'm worse at another part. I focused intensely on carving down my jokes to make them more pointed and to waste fewer words. And then I noticed all of the flaws in my performance were more obvious, so I spent several months with an acting coach to work on how I stand and how I look when I'm just hanging out and talking, trying to have a more believable delivery. I feel like maybe I'm at a 7½ now.
Is there any part of the Portland ethos you will take with you professionally or personally?
So there's a scrappiness to the Portland ethos, maybe even a need to prove yourself/chip on your shoulder we get from like a city that's not the first on everybody's list. I feel like I would like to stay…scrappy? Oh, I hate this answer. This answer sucks. I don't know how to answer this one! Put "scrappy" and then put that I gave up and I hate that answer.
SEE IT: Alex Falcone's Going Away Party is at Helium Comedy Club, 1510 SE 9th Ave., portland.heliumcomedy.com, on Sunday, Nov. 24. 7 pm. $12. 21+.