The Funniest 5:
Sean Jordan is the first to admit he's somewhat forgettable. A tall, decent-looking white dude, perpetually clad in jeans and a hoodie, he looks like a skater bro who never grew up. Sometimes, he has some scruffy facial hair. His bits—about a recent breakup, his alcoholic dad or the boxers his mom buys him—are personal and casual, told with a blend of old-manisms and words a white kid from South Dakota might imagine to be street slang.
"Let's get buck, playboy," he says at the beginning of a set, one hand in his jeans pocket and the other loosely clasping the mic. "What's the scuttlebutt, nephew? Everything all right?" His shoulders are relaxed, his toothpaste-ad teeth on full display as he makes eye contact around the room.
"Some comedians are a force," says Jordan, 33. "They don't fall to the back of your mind. But I'm the person where you're like, 'Oh shit, I forgot you do standup. You're really funny!'"
So what makes Jordan funnier than the legions of other tall, decent-looking white dudes he beat out to top our annual poll of Portland's best standup comedians?
Well, that's a little more complicated.
The story starts at a rural liquor store.
Inside Portland's tight-knit comedy scene, Jordan is the relentlessly positive guy who peppers his speech with "gnarly" and "dope." He rarely sends an email without a smiley-face emoticon and says the idea of turning down a gig makes him feel sick. But for someone who channels such a mellow vibe, his upbringing in Sioux Falls, S.D., was somewhat rough-and-tumble.
"A saint," Jordan says.
"Good guy, bad dad."
They met at the Rapid City liquor store where his mother worked.
"After seeing this dude come into a fucking liquor store every day for six months—she didn't work at, like, a Bible factory—she was like, 'Fine, let's go out. Let's see what you're about,'" Jordan says. "It's like, you know what he's about. He's at the liquor store every fucking day."
Jordan was born while his parents were in their early 20s. His dad split when Jordan was 6 months old and didn't reappear for a decade. His mom remarried and had a daughter when Jordan was 14. He was in the room during her birth, recalling the placenta splatting onto a metal tray on the floor as "the gnarliest thing I've ever seen in my life."
Upon his return, Jordan's dad got a DUI with his preteen son in the backseat. His thoughts on his dad, who died when he was 24, remain fraught. "It sucks, because he sounds like a shithead," he says. "And he wasn't, but he kind of was. But he wasn't. He was just very irresponsible."
As a kid, Jordan was a self-described hayseed who also happened to have a black belt in tae kwon do (he still owns two pairs of nunchucks), an affinity for hip-hop music and a tendency to dress like a long-lost member of TLC.
"The shit that I wore would have made you vomit," he says. "In sixth grade, I had a pair of 38-waist turquoise Cross Colours. Think about that—38. I'm wearing a 32 right now."
Despite vague plans to major in psychology at the University of South Dakota, Jordan skipped class to skateboard and drink 40s. He dropped out after two years and moved back to Sioux Falls, where a co-worker urged him to enter a comedy contest. It was his first time onstage, and he made cracks about calling in sick for the holidays and did some floppy physical humor about whiskey dick. He won.
Five years ago, when a group of his hometown friends moved west, Jordan took a room in their "big fat crib" in Northwest Portland. He's gotten steady standup gigs since, both in Portland and on the road—he's toured with Doug Benson and opened for Patton Oswalt and Norm Macdonald—that he's supplemented with temp work at a medical transport agency. He also produces one of the city's best comedy showcases, Funny Over Everything.
But no matter his successes, Jordan's modesty remains deep-rooted. Try asking him, for example, to detail his greatest accomplishments.
"One of the funnest things to do is still to headline a show in my hometown," he answers. "It's really nice to have Mom get to see that, when I come back and a place fills up just to see me."
And then he hedges: "Not all based on my talent, of course—I have good friends."
You get the sense this is sincerity, not shtick. And so it's not surprising Jordan is so popular with his peers in the scene—other comics, club staff and promoters. His buoyancy can be hard to crack. In conversation, he is resolutely determined not to complain—he'd rather profess his love for Portland or describe how he cried tears of joy watching good friend Ron Funches perform on Conan. After a recent show at EastBurn, over a shot of Jameson and a tallboy of PBR, Jordan seems physically pained when describing disengaged audience members at the back of the room. He's apologetic when he interrupts our interview to write down an idea for a joke.
Comedy, Jordan says, is one of three things he's good at—along with tae kwon do and skateboarding. But if there's anything he makes clear, especially offstage, it's that he doesn't want to sound like a braggy asshole. "When there are things people are good at and they say they're not, it really bothers me," Jordan says. "I'm good at those three things and bad at everything else, and I have no problem saying that."
Though his act has become more polished over time, he still sounds like a friend spinning an amusing yarn over a beer rather than someone who's manufactured a punch line. And his distinctive mix of language is simply fun to listen to: He blends hip-hop vernacular and skate slang—things are "buck," "ill," "chill," "gangster"—with phrases your grandfather, or maybe Hank Hill, might drop. Someone is "shooting from the hip" or "stuck behind the eight ball." What results is incongruous but unforced, especially coming from someone who resembles, in Jordan's own words, an unpublished author or youth pastor.
âBut,â he adds, âone of those cool youth pastors.â
See him live: The Funniest 5 comedy showcase. Bossanova Ballroom, 722 E Burnside St., 206-7630. 7 pm. Free. 21+.
A LETTER FROM AMY MILLER, LAST YEAR'S FUNNIEST 5 WINNER, TO BABY SEAN
Hey there, baby boy. Whatcha lookin' at? Hard to tell sometimes, but I bet I know what it is. It's your dreams, isn't it? You think basketball might take you to the top, but we're pretty sure you don't have the hand-eye coordination for it, sport. What you don't know right now is that you're gonna grow up to be a super-chill dude who gets buck with his friends, rides skateboards and tells jokes for money. How sick is that? And guess what, bb S.J.? You'll be able to eat pizza whenever you want.
One day soon, a city full of comedians and comedy fans are gonna vote for you as the dopest dude in town, and your face will be all over the papers. But a handsomer version of it, because we know you're gonna grow out of this, little guy. The unfettered love of Kelly Jordan combined with the challenges of the mean streets of Sioux Falls, S.D., and the wisdom of 2Pac are gonna shine this coal right into a rad-ass diamond. The people of Portland will snatch up that dank treasure, put it right into their heart pockets and never let it go.
Some haters might step up to you talking shit like, "Hey. Isn't it enough that he's good-lookin', great at comedy and has the tightest nollie inward heelflip on the block?" And the people will respond with a resounding, "No, you goddamn soup cans. It's not enough." Because you're also gonna be one of the kindest dudes in the biz.
I know what you're thinking, sweet baby. You're thinking, "But Amy, how will I face the pressures of a burgeoning comedy career in a cold-hearted industry and stay a really chill person who everyone loves?" 40s, Sean. A lot of 40s. Plus a solid seven viewings of Love Actually each holiday season to keep you grounded. Go get 'em, champ!