JoAnn Schinderle had no idea when it was coming. It was just a few months into her comedy career, and she was working behind the bar at Curious Comedy "making martinis and shit" as former Funniest Five winner Gabe Dinger hosted his standup showcase. Schinderle knew she was going to perform sometime during the show, but not when.
So she poured beers and anxiously awaited the moment when she'd be called onstage.
"He wouldn't tell me when I was up because he wanted me to be on my toes," says Schinderle. "He was like, 'Your next comic coming to the stage has been making your food and drinks all night. Also, she's knee-deep in her period.'"
It was a key moment in Schinderle's fledgling career.
"I was so shocked and embarrassed, but leaned in to it and told a story I've never told before," says Schinderle. "It helped me dive in."
Now that Schinderle is the one cultivating Portland comedy, her liberal use of period jokes seems like a power play. In one of her jokes about "free bleeding," she insists that if women have to go to work while on their periods, workplaces should provide tampons or be cool about menstrual blood ending up on office chairs.
Not long after Dinger abruptly called her up onto the stage, Schinderle decided to take charge. She started her own showcase, Control Yourself, which is now the second-longest-running showcase in the city behind Barbara Holm's It's Gonna Be Okay.
For almost four years, Schinderle has booked, produced and hosted Control Yourself every Sunday at the Alberta Street Pub. She's built Control Yourself into a place for Portland's up-and-coming comedians to hone their craft as well as a stopping point for touring comedians. One recent show included hosts of other local showcases flexing their best jokes, and laid-back sets from nationally established comedians Shane Mauss and Brooke Van Poppelen.
Schinderle hosts with infectious, hammy energy that still seems sincere, and tells jokes that feel colloquial even though they're carefully crafted. She delivers one bit about a stranger telling her that her expression makes her look "extremely unapproachable" with the casual exasperation of a venting friend. But when she gets to the punch line, it's full force: "Your expression makes you look like a cunt!—it's OK, I can say that word. My best friend is one."
She's extremely animated—her theatrical gestures are often half the joke, whether it's implying doggy-style before revealing that she's talking about bicycling ("ass up, hands down, stomach folded") or flashing jazz hands at the backs of audience members leaving their seats while she's introducing a comic.
Her material is mostly lovable-slacker stories—trying to return wine-stained rugs to Target, reflecting on whether you'd sleep with your date if you were sober, and wearing dark jeans instead of buying tampons.
But instead of self-deprecating, Schinderle is commanding. "I love yelling," as she words it. Her turbulent delivery is what makes her jokes so viscerally satisfying. She dips from casually mumbling absurdities ("Do you ever want to shave your whole body and start over?") to aggressively proclaiming them ("I want the hair removed from my body, including my vagina, please help me.")
So on a Wednesday afternoon at Bare Bones Cafe on Southeast Belmont Street, it's surprising to find her so reserved. Sitting at a corner table eating a bowl of squash soup, she's almost inconspicuous except for the fact that she's wearing a Blazers jersey and an oversized Blazers snapback even though there's no game (she just came from an audition, she explains). Schinderle is still highly expressive, and speaks with a residual Wisconsin accent punctuated by chuckles that are somewhere between ironically theatrical and a nervous giggle. But whenever she talks about her work, it's with focus and intensity.
"I felt pressure from the very beginning that if I was going to do something, it had to be done well because I was so new," she says. It's hard to imagine now that Control Yourself is such a mainstay, but Schinderle founded the showcase only a year after she moved to the city and performed her first standup set.
In 2012, she moved to Portland from Minneapolis to curate and host art and fashion shows. But when she got here, she quickly found she needed another creative outlet. "I worked from home, I didn't know anybody," says Schinderle. "It just rained every day. I was losing my mind."
She decided that outlet should be standup comedy, partly because she had something to get off her chest. "Ultimately, it stemmed from wanting to write a tragedy novel," says Schinderle.
In college, Schinderle had her identity stolen by a man she had been in a relationship with for three years. He found out her Social Security number then wreaked havoc on her bank account that her credit score still hasn't recovered from. "It's a true Dateline story. He was engaged to like three different women after we broke up," says Schinderle. "The whole scenario ruined ties with my family. It was really bad."
She was hoping to use the terrible situation as an opportunity to fulfill her lifelong dream of writing a novel that made Oprah's Book Club. But Oprah ended her show before Schinderle got the chance to write her story. "You can't just wake up and be a writer if Oprah's gone," says Schinderle. So she decided to use her story to check off another item on her bucket list—performing standup comedy.
Her desire to tell her identity theft story was the impetus for her standup career, but she quickly noticed that audiences respond better to jokes about everyday mishaps like passive-aggressive roommates and bad dating experiences. "Standup is like you're telling your friends a story at a bar," Schinderle says. "You just have to cut the fat out of it.
She started going to open mics on a regular basis and performing at comedy festivals in Austin and San Francisco. But it was a bartending job at Old Town Brewing that led to Control Yourself. The owners of the Alberta Street Pub were regulars during Schinderle's shift and, one day, went to one of her standup sets. Shortly after that, they asked her to run a comedy showcase in their newly renovated space.
"Some would argue that you shouldn't run a showcase until you have a little more under your belt," says Schinderle, before coyly adding, "unless you're good."
Along with the fact that she had been tirelessly sharpening her own skills as a comedian, her previous career was as an event planner. Her early success was due to a combination of "being comfortable onstage because I was a theater kid and, when the opportunity arose, being a businesswoman," says Schinderle. "I set my own terms."
Now, it doesn't exactly seem like a unique position. The city's rapidly growing demand for comedy has led to a boom in comedian-run shows in the past few years. There are now dozens of regular comedy showcases. But when Control Yourself first started, there were only a few. That worked to Schinderle's advantage. The epicenter of the comedy scene was a lot easier to pinpoint—it was clear who was at the bottom of the ladder, but that also meant it was clear how to get to the top.
"There was a backroom of the Brody Theater, and that's where like Ian Karmel and Sean Jordan and Shane Torres [would hang out]," says Schinderle. "You never walked through those curtains unless you were good enough."
From the very beginning, Schinderle had a vision for Control Yourself as a jumping-off point not just for individual comics but for the scene as a whole. "Out-of-town comics, I wanted to make sure my show was a destination spot for them, too," she says. "And it is."
As Portland continues to gain a national reputation as a comedy city due to Bridgetown Comedy Festival and our steady stream of comedians to New York and LA, Control Yourself provides a vital, year-round connection between an expanding local scene and its increasingly national ambitions. When Portlandia's Fred Armisen was in town this past September, he asked Schinderle if he could perform on her show.
Schinderle's influence on Portland comedy appears in strange places, the least of which is behind-the-scenes period jokes. "There's this ongoing joke in the community that other female comedians sync up with me, which I think is awesome," she says. "Now men are talking about it. I'll get text messages from dudes that have questions about their girlfriends."
Sometimes, the jokes even make it to the stage. Schinderle's Yolks & Jokes co-host, Jake Silberman, has a bit he performs about the fact that until recently, he thought women used one tampon for their entire period. "That's the level we're starting at," says Schinderle. But she seems humored by the idea of educating male comedians one text about bodily functions at a time: "I'm like, 'Yes, I will guide you through this.'"
So if people have a problem with how liberally she uses periods as a premise for jokes, Schinderle says they can fuck off. "I have actual evidence that it's starting a conversation," she says.
GO: WW's Funniest Five showcase, hosted by Adam Pasi, is at the Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St. 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 28. $10.