Julia Corral Was Destined for Portland

“They wanted someone to shit on white people. And I’m good at it.”

Julia Corral’s best bit is the one about who, at the age of 40, she’s turning into. It’s not Selena, as she predicted, but Danny DeVito (belly, thinning hair, whiskers) and Yolanda Salvidar, the woman who murdered Selena. That smart, droll joke captures her comedic style: self-effacing, dark and beer-spittingly funny.

Corral is far from matronly, but performing three to five nights a week, she does spend a lot of time around 20-something comics.

“Oh my God. I get called ‘Julia, the Portland comedy mom.’ That is so sad,” she says over a Red Bull and vodka at the Lay Low Tavern, where she hosts the Comedy Corral, a biweekly showcase. “It is weird being onstage where there’s a whole generation who doesn’t get my references. I don’t know who the new bands are.”

Originally from Orange County, Corral has been hitting the comedy clubs in Portland with a vengeance for the past three and a half years. “I felt like Portland was destined,” she says. “I found friends very easily. I found my husband. Everything was like kismet.”

Confidence has never been lacking for Corral, who grew up doing theater, improv, cheerleading and morning announcements at school. “I knew with my friends I was funny very young,” she recalls. “Our family was centered on laughter, and a lot of that laughter, being Mexican, is giving each other a hard time, so you’re not only being funny, but you’re growing a thick skin.”

Corral lights up when talking about her childhood. “I was definitely the kid who always raised her hand,” she says. “And I would say that I was always funny, but I’m also very type A, OK? I got to be a class clown, but I never got in trouble, because I also got straight A’s.”

Corral cites several strong women as her inspiration, from her grandmother —”we would just literally sit around her while she made us laugh and then everybody would kind of take turns being funny”—to Sarah Silverman, Roseanne Barr and Margaret Cho.

Do comedy bookers ever want Corral to be more Mexican? “Oh, I feel like that all the time. A lot of times I do get booked because I’m a woman and because I’m brown,” she says. “But also, it’s a blessing and a curse. Do they like me or do they not? But I waited so long to do this that I don’t really care. Like, what am I gonna do? Sometimes there’ll be an older Mexican man or woman, and they’ll come up to me and they’ll be like, ‘I’m so happy to see you here.’”

She jokes that on a recent appearance on OPB, she inadvertently gave the same speech Edward James Olmos gives at the end of Selena. “They ate it up,” she says in her act, adding, “Why did they ask me? Because I’m brown and I live in Portland. They wanted someone to shit on white people. And I’m good at it. The white guilt in this city is so amazing.”

Onstage, Corral loves to “talk shit” about her husband. “My husband was raised Mormon-hillbilly—that’s essentially Mexican,” she likes to joke. “We both have the ability to shove 18 of our cousins in the back seat of a minivan.”

An even more memorable bit (worthy of comparison to Phyllis Diller’s rants against her poor spouse Fang) goes, “He’ll scroll photos of vintage Portland and see a tiny sapling that was planted in the 1900s, and then for date night, we’ll drive around for hours and find this big, beautiful oak tree. I’m so impressed he can do this when he can’t find my clit in this bush.”

Corral may poke more than a little fun at him, but he’s a constant in her comedic process. “My husband is my partner,” she says. “I run every joke by him.”

During the pandemic, Corral lost both her mother and grandmother. “I felt I was a different comic before the pandemic, and the only way to explain it is when I lost my mom and I lost my grandma,” she says. “There was no barrier anymore for anyone to judge me. There’s no one left for me to truly disappoint. I can disappoint my husband, but that’s different.”

For a comic who mainly targets herself, Corral comes across as being fairly well adjusted. “Living in 2023 is very hard,” she says. “We’re all damaged, we’re all kind of stressed. I’m realizing we’re all neurodivergent, we all have ADHD. That’s just life. You can’t really blame anybody. You can’t blame your parents. You just, like, move on.”