In a BDSM dungeon on Foster, Amanda Arnold encountered some resistance to a joke. The dungeon had been loosely outfitted as a comedy club—with chairs set up amid gynecological tables and beds—and was serving cookies, pizza and soft drinks out of a cooler. When Arnold told the story of a Tinder date who asked her to dress like a little girl and pretend to cry, someone in the audience objected, "You know, we're into that."
"I'm not condemning the weird shit you do," Arnold responded. "I'm just making fun of the weird shit you do."
After all, Arnold is just as likely to make fun of her own quirks as she is someone else's. "We've all done weird stuff," says Arnold sitting in a booth at Katie O'Brien's on Sandy, sparsely populated at 2 pm. "I want people to be able to relate to me that we all have pasts."
In her standup sets, she tells stories of becoming "thumb [in the butt] girl" to an attractive emergency room doctor, or of a judgmental Plaid Pantry cashier when one late night she purchased wine, chocolate and batteries (for a cat toy).
That might sound in the vein of standup's tradition of self-deprecation, but Arnold doesn't seem like she's interested in being self-deprecating.
"I do have a past. It makes me who I am, and I wouldn't change any of it," she says. "I'd still do all the drugs, I'd still sleep with all the boys, I'd still do all the things."
Not to mention that being a grown-ass woman who's lived her life is a crucial part of what informs her material. Arnold had no ambition to become a comedian for most of her life, and it wasn't until she was 30 that she officially performed standup for the first time. By then, she "had stuff to talk about."
As a Portland native, comedy was a part of Arnold's childhood—her mom wrote jokes for her to perform at her third-grade talent show, and she memorized one of Howie Mandel's standup sets. Arnold's teens were full of what she retroactively considers practice for standup: "Smoking pot and eating mushrooms in basements and around campfires, I would always just end up talking for like two hours, and people would listen," she says.
But a career as a comedian was hardly on Arnold's radar. By her early 20s, Arnold had a cozy bank job and was in a long-term relationship.
"When I was about 21, I had already had a fake ID and been to the bars for like two years, and I got the job at the bank and was like, 'I'm kind of done doing this,'" says Arnold. "I kind of settled into 'OK, this is adult life.'"
But when the subprime mortgage market crashed in the late 2000s, Arnold lost her job, and her long-term relationship ended. She found herself with severance pay and free time, which coincided with Arnold's first standup set. Her friends prompted her to enter an open-mic competition, and Arnold came out victorious with $500. "Holy shit, this feels good," she remembers thinking. "It wasn't scary, it was wonderful."
She began to participate in open mics regularly and, due to meeting the right people at the right time, could go on the road "way before I was ready." But Arnold says getting thrown into the comedic deep end was how she learned to be a standup comic, instead of just your average funny person. "You meet people who've been doing it for years and years, and they're like, 'You're funny, but you're doing all this shit wrong,'" says Arnold of touring.
She now works as a vet tech, but she can almost support herself entirely with money earned from comedy. Arnold is a regular at Harvey's and has more recently started doing showcases at Helium.
She lives in FoPo with six roommates, which she describes as "kind of reliving my 20s in a weird sort of way." Arnold says she could go back to working a well-paying bank job, but now that she's found comedy, she's all in.
"I don't want to move to L.A., but I will," she says.
That doesn't mean she's not content with her current position in life, though. "I tell jokes and pet dogs for a living," she says. "I'm living my 10-year-old dream."
It's an unexpected reversal: a job with a stable income in her 20s and a life on the road in her 30s. But Arnold says this has worked out for the best. "I'm glad I didn't start in my 20s," she says. "I was such a shit show. I would have burned all the bridges. It happened when it was supposed to happen."
Amanda Arnold is at Harvey's Comedy Club, 436 NW 6th Ave., with David Nickerson, on Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 8-11. 7:30 pm. Additional shows 10 pm Friday-Saturday and 5 pm Saturday. $15. 21+.