“WHISKEY’S SO GOOD,” Shane Torres says thoughtfully.
We’re sitting at the White Owl—a popular drinking-ground for local comedians, thanks to its proximity to the Helium Comedy Club—consuming unprofessionally large pints of whiskey and soda. (He drinks his with a lime, which is weird.) In between sips, the Texas-born comic is explaining why, after years of honing his comedy chops in Portland, he’s moving to New York later this month.
“I can’t do much more here than I’ve done,” Torres says. “I’ve had my year at the top of the heap after winning Portland’s Funniest Person”—he won the local contest in 2013—”and doing Last Comic Standing and Comedy Bang! Bang! If there was a ton of industry here or a ton of clubs where I could work every night, I’d probably stay. But there aren’t. And not to shit on Yakima, but I don’t want to have to go work clubs in places like Yakima every weekend to get work.”
Torres is a seven-year veteran of the local comedy scene, and the most recent comic to ditch Portland for the bright lights of a bigger city, though he certainly won’t be the last. Portland’s got a tight-knit comedy community and some great clubs and showcases, but the promise of fame and fortune (and agents, and TV deals, and the sink-or-swim urgency of cutthroat competition) are still in far-off New York and LA.
Like any comedian who’s serious about their work, Torres writes and performs constantly. You’ve probably heard his joke about getting calls from his dead dad’s bill collectors while eating in a mall food court, or the one about how he resembles a “Native American Meat Loaf impersonator.” It’s usually not much fun seeing a comic do the same joke over and over—one of the perils of a small scene—but Torres is consistently interesting to watch, because he relentlessly refines his material over weeks and months, making subtle changes to word choice and delivery.
Sometimes those changes pay off, and sometimes they don’t; sometimes a joke looks good on the page and fails in the room, and sometimes it only really comes to life in the delivery. To provide a window into his joke-writing process, Torres spent the last week trying out different versions of the same concept—at the Brody Theater, at Helium, and at Al’s Den. Three different drafts of the joke are presented below, with line-by-line revisions illustrating the different tactics he took each time. Torres still hasn’t perfected the joke, though—he’ll give it one last shot at his going-away show on October 10.
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