Comedian Hunter Donaldson had barely returned to Portland—after spending time with his family in Arkansas during the pandemic—before he announced he was moving to New York and would be having a last round of shows: two sets of Hard Man, Soft Boy, which he performs with Jake Silberman, tonight at the Rogue Eastside Pub and Brewery.
A 2019 alum of WW’s funniest five, Donaldson entered the city’s comedy scene six years ago, with a unique, slow-quick timing and a quick-quick wit that earned him a place on many standup bills. Of course, everything went sideways during the pandemic and he, like many other comedians, saw no point in paying Portland rent if he couldn’t perform live comedy.
During his pandemic Arkansas time, Donaldson’s strategy board game podcast Space Cats Peace Turtles—which he co-hosts with Matt Martens and is quick to point out is not a funny podcast—gained an even stronger following, enabling him to live mostly off the Patreon income. Donaldson returned to Portland in late summer. Now that he’s on his way out, all he’ll say is that “life blew up.” That might mean something relationship-based or, as we’ll learn, it could relate to a grift gone wrong.
WW: So, you’re leaving. You just moved back. Your return was so tenuous that I didn’t even want to say you were back.
Hunter Donaldson: Yeah, there’s some people that are gonna find out that I was back from this exit interview, probably. They’ll be like, “Hunter is back?” And I’ll be like, “Byyee.”
Why were you in Arkansas until recently?
My mom needed some help with this house she was trying to sell. So I just spent the pandemic doing that—and also being away from society in a more woodsy, isolated place.
I’m from the South originally. When I first moved to Portland six years ago, I would meet people and they would say things about Arkansas. It’s an easy state to joke about. There are all these imagined horrible things about it, as opposed to the real horrible things.
What’s a real thing that’s horrible, as opposed to actual horrible?
It’s difficult not to go real hard on the obvious one. When the pandemic happened and I moved back there, it was very frustrating to be around all these people who didn’t give two shits about the virus.
Was that because you were in a rural area and people weren’t exposed to it?
No. It’s because the town I’m from is like the birthplace of Walmart.
Is that why you left it in the first place?
I left because I wanted to do standup. I’d been doing standup in Arkansas, so I took a road trip to open mic nights along the West Coast. The night I was in Portland was a Tuesday, which is the night Helium does their open mic nights. That good mic basically influenced my entire decision. If it had been a Wednesday, I might have moved to Seattle.
So, did you have a better open mic in New York?
Oh, there’s no plan here. There was no plan moving here, and there’s no plan moving to New York. I have a lot of friends there, but I don’t have, say, career reasons to move there.
This is all happening very quickly. My life sort of imploded and I texted my friend Sean, who lives in Brooklyn. He said, “Hey, we need a roommate in January.” That was three weeks ago.
Is it a comedy Sean?
No. Here’s something about being from Arkansas. It’s sort of like being in the Freemasons. I have this whole network of Arkansas people all across the country. Cuz nobody stays in Arkansas; everyone moves away from it. So when my life blew up, I went online and said, “Arkansas friends, help me!” and they were like, “Move to New York. You’ll be all good.”
That didn’t leave a lot of time for a goodbye show. Jake Silberman and I had already planned a Hard Man, Soft Boy show on Dec. 17 so I decided to just do that as my goodbye show. That’s honestly the stuff that I like to do anyway.
The show is mostly crowd work, right?
The longer I’ve been doing comedy, the less interested I am in jokes. I think the height of my comedy aspiration right now would be: 45 minutes on stage and it’s funny but not, like, jokey. I was doing a show at Al’s Den recently, and after I said something, somebody in the audience said, “Eew.” And that was the highlight of the night for me.
The reason Jake and I like working together is because we’re just very different. He likes sports. I like board games. I don’t care about anything he likes, and he doesn’t care about what I like either.
Are there performers whose work you see and that’s what you’re trying for?
People tell me that my work is like Rory Scovel because he also likes improvisation, and we look something alike. So I just avoid him like the plague. Never want to meet him. Never want to see him perform. As far as I’m concerned, he sucks.
That’s the most negative thing I’ve ever heard you say. Do you have any other bridges you want to burn on your way out of town?
Not really. I have a sweet heart. However, I do have a grift I’m trying to perpetuate. Don’t tell anybody about this, but I never got to host at Helium—I don’t care about that, I don’t care about milestones. But lately there’s been some changes in management, and I get the feeling that maybe they don’t know that I never hosted there. I’m thinking about just trying to see if I can trick them into thinking that I used to work there. I could just email the manager my availability and see what happens.
But if I print that, then they’ll know.
If you include that, you should say that I asked you not to say anything.
GO: Hard Man, Soft Boy shows at Rogue Brewing, 928 SE 9th Ave. 7 and 9 pm Friday, Dec. 17. $8.