Dan Weber waited until he was 41 to start doing standup comedy, because he was terrified he might hurt somebody.
"I had a lot of anger problems when I was kid," Weber says. "So I was really, really afraid that when I was onstage, someone would heckle me and I would come offstage and beat them to death with a mic stand. I basically waited until I felt like that wouldn't happen."
With the potential for impulsive outbursts in check, that delay came to an end when Weber took a comedy class from former Portland comic Ian Karmel and signed up for an open-mic slot at the Brody Theater. "It wasn't good," Weber says of his performance. "It was terrible. I got like two chuckles in three minutes, but that was enough."
Enough, it turned out, to propel him toward a career as the late-blooming renegade of Portland comedy. Calling Weber one of the city's gutsiest funny men might sound like hyperbole, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone else whose singular brand of wit involves mocking the Bible and telling a seven-minute joke about being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
"A lot of my material is not relatable at all for most people, but it still does well," Weber says. "I think my favorite laugh to get is the laugh that you didn't want to give me—the one where I make you laugh at something you never expected to laugh at." During a recent show at the Brody, he effortlessly proved his point by unleashing a barrage of jokes about cancer and racism that was one of the highlights of the night.
Weber's world is built on contradictions. His booming baritone radiates seductive confidence onstage, but in conversation, he is soft-spoken and modest. A cloud of curly gray hair brings to mind legendary Queen guitarist Brian May, but Weber's glasses, to use his own description, resemble boy wizard Harry Potter's. And although he attended a conservative Baptist church while growing up in Tillamook, Weber also listened to his parents' profanity-laden George Carlin record and knew he wanted to do standup by the time he was 17.
Twenty-four years passed between that realization and the beginning of his career in comedy, but Weber doesn't regret it. However, those two decades—which included the end of an 18-year marriage and a period of homelessness—left him miserable. "I just felt hollow and I thought I would try standup," Weber remembers. "I thought, 'What's the worst that could happen?'"
With little to lose, Weber overcame the disappointment of his first set and began developing increasingly bolder material. No longer a devout Christian, he was struck by the comedic possibilities presented by the Scriptures, which he long since had fallen out of love with. "I read through it again in high school, and I was like, 'Oh, this is nonsense,'" he says. "That was the beginning of the end for me for Christianity in general—the book they followed." It also prompted the launch of his podcast Reading the Bible With Dan, a long-running endeavor that recently saw him lampoon Ezekiel 9 with his frequent collaborator Nariko Ott.
Another defining moment arrived when Weber decided to write a joke about a woman who he says molested him when he was between 5 and 7. "I had a baby sitter that had me go down on her a lot, and then she would bring other girls from the neighborhood over," he says. "She would have me fuck them too, perform oral sex on them. I didn't know it was bad. I didn't know it was wrong."
Molding a traumatic experience into art wasn't just personally cathartic, Weber says—it also had a profound impact on his audiences. "This was not my intention when I started doing the joke, but I've had people tell me afterwards, 'I'm glad you talked about that,'" he says. "It just makes people who have that same experience not feel entirely alone."
Weber isn't done refining his comedic chops—he wants to work on the physical component of performance by "moving with intention onstage" and enhancing some acts with pantomime. Despite an occasionally self-effacing take on his skills, Weber's rise to local stardom remains astounding. Plus, his fears about beating someone to death turned out to be unfounded—although he did incur some serious heckling during a show where he made the mistake of revealing his apathy about fluoride to the audience.
"I don't give a shit about fluoride, and I tell them that and they lose it," Weber says. "One person in the audience said I was the worst person who ever lived." Yet he soldiered on through the 15-minute set. "At the end of it, this guy walked up to me and said, 'I fucking hated you. But you're still pretty funny,'" Weber says. "And I was like, 'That's perfect.'"