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Make us laugh: Local comedians shine on stage

by: kristen forbes Devin Monaghan discusses the finer points of comedy at Pizza Schmizza in Westlake Village, a local place he frequents. Coincidentally, fellow comedian Joe Alston works at Pizza Schmizza.

Lake Oswego resident Devin Monaghan, 22, is making a name for himself in the Portland comedy scene.

A 2007 graduate of Lake Oswego High School, Monaghan says spending his first post-high school year in Nebraska forced him to develop a sense of humor. When a friend suggested he try stand-up comedy, it took Monaghan two years to follow through; eventually he made his comedy debut in March 2009 at Bombs Away Café in Corvallis. Friends came from Portland and Eugene to cheer on his act, which featured 'what was described as pioneeringly offensive material,' Monaghan says.

He was hooked.

'I decided the feeling of euphoria after my performance outweighed the feeling of dread before the performance,' he says.

He sporadically performed a few shows in the following years, then recently amped up his schedule to include three weekly performances in the Portland metro area.

'Sometimes the material chooses me and I just channel it through my mouth,' Monaghan says. 'I grew up watching, listening and following politics. I can open a newspaper, watch the local news and develop a set. Other times, it just comes to me. It hits me randomly when I'm doing something or nothing.'

Now is an opportune time to be involved, since Monaghan says the Portland comedy scene is expanding more than anyone could have imagined. With four major comedy clubs (Helium, Harvey's, Curious Comedy and Comedy Sports) and countless venues for showcases and open mic nights, this is an ideal area for both a novice comic looking to try out a set and a seasoned comic trying to establish a following.

'I believe Portland has always punched above its weight artistically,' Monaghan says. 'We're starting to do that with comedy too.'

The less traditional route is one Monaghan is familiar with. For college, he spent one year at Nebraska, transferred and spent a year and a half at Oregon State University, is now attending Portland Community College, and plans to go to Portland State University. Monaghan is a writer (beyond comedy, he works on short stories, novels and political satires) pursuing liberal arts. Lately, he's also developed an interest in studying business.

'I tried and failed to drop out of school, so now I'm back,' he says.

While attending first grade through high school in Lake Oswego, Monaghan had the opportunity to hone his comedic skills.

'From an early age, I had an addiction to making people laugh,' he says. 'I'd always be the class clown, but I'd also make the teachers laugh. This might have to do with my ADHD. I just get bored, so I start making jokes about things. Whenever I wasn't the funniest person in the classroom, I'd always get very jealous. There were some people in high school I hated being in class with. Kevin Love is one of them. I'm convinced that if Kevin Love wasn't a basketball player, he'd be a stand-up comedian. He's one of the most naturally funny guys I've ever known.'

Outside Lake Oswego, Monaghan's comedic idols include Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Greg Giraldo and Woody Allen.

'Humor is tension and a release,' Monaghan says. 'It's catharsis. If a stressful situation happens, or if there's anxiety or awkwardness, make a joke about it and you make it better for everyone around you. There's relief in that. I'd rather smile and laugh.'

He isn't alone. Another Lake Oswego comedian, 21-year-old Joe Alston, says he was quiet in high school (also Lake Oswego High School, a year behind Monaghan), but always enjoyed joking around with friends. Lately he's been performing at open mics, an experience he finds interesting for several reasons.

First, when only going on stage for a short amount of time, audiences often assume that whoever he is during those three minutes is who he is all the time. So when Alston goes on with a series of dirty jokes and edgier material, the audience assumes that's always his personality. Secondly, what works in one venue can bomb in another.

Monaghan corroborates this, saying there can be a huge difference between audiences in Southwest Portland and Milwaukie, for example.

Having such diverse venues creates a bigger challenge and opportunity for growth for local comedians, who must be prepared to tweak their material at the last minute in accordance with audience reception. Monaghan thinks those who support the local stand-up scene will be pleasantly surprised by the high level of talent being showcased. He predicts that many of tomorrow's comedy stars are getting their start right here, right now.

Alston knows this firsthand.

'I was watching 'Comedy Central' the other day and saw a guy I performed with at an open mic night here,' he says.

One way to support the local scene is to check out the company Monaghan works for, Hardcorn Entertainment. The website, www.hardcornentertainment.com , features a schedule for local comedy. A variety of open mic nights and showcases can also be found by searching for Portland comedy online. Monaghan can be contacted through his Facebook page.

Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer. View her blog by visiting www.krissymick.blogspot.com .