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The jokes on Portland

Two comedians offer a tongue-in-cheek city tour

Ready for a fresh and funny take on the city you thought you knew? Sit down on a charter bus with local stand-up comedians Art Krug and Mike 'Boats' Johnson.

Even longtime residents will learn things they didn't know about the city when 'Tour de Farce' makes its maiden voyage Feb. 24. The show is intended to inform and entertain both John Q. Public and those who are perhaps required to know the city the best Ñ members of Portland's hospitality industry.

Krug, who has appeared on Showtime's 'Comedy Club,' says the tour will have riders looking at their surroundings a bit differently.

'Have you ever noticed the original Otis Elevator building on Northwest 10th Avenue?' he asks. 'It's a single-story building! Apparently they don't believe in research and development.'

Glib factoids such as these will move your laugh-o-meter from zero to 60 as you ride along on the trip, which starts downtown. It then heads to the Hawthorne District, followed by the Lloyd Center, and from there travels up to Northwest Portland before returning downtown 1 1Ú2 hours later.

Like all good comedians, Krug and Johnson know their material inside and out.

'We drove the route again and again, making notes on the potshots we wanted to take,' Johnson said.

These discoveries make up what Krug calls 'The Detour Tour,' a collection of witty asides that you aren't likely to experience on your average tour.

'We've tried to keep it balanced between word play and jokes about the character of the neighborhoods,' Krug says. 'The Hawthorne District, for example, rejected McDonald's attempts to move into the neighborhood because they're opposed to big business. I guess they wanted to preserve the local flavor of the small-business owner Ñ like Blockbuster and Starbucks.'

Johnson chimes in with another tidbit they'll share on the tour: 'We'll drive by The Mountain Shop on Northeast Broadway and say, 'Business looks slow Ñ but you know, you only have to sell one É' '

A new approach

The tour Ñ with Evergreen Trailways Gray Line of Portland Ñ is the duo's latest creative endeavor in a business that thrives on fresh material.

'The stand-up industry is saturated,' Krug explains. 'Comedians multiplied like fleas in past years. It used to be something special. You'd tell people you were a comedian, and they'd say, 'Tell me about it.' Now they say, 'Oh, my brother does that.' '

Morgan Dant, vice president of sales for Gray Line of Portland, saw something original in the 'Tour de Farce,' when the comedians promoted it in a slide show at last year's Portland Oregon Visitors Association showcase.

'It occurred to me that they'd be a perfect fit,' Dant says. 'We already offer city tours, but this seemed like an opportunity for a lightened-up version.'

Both Krug and Johnson have worked in comedy in the Northwest for nearly 20 years. Each got his start at Portland's original open-mike comedy spot, The Leaky Roof Tavern.

'The comedian Susan Rice was my roommate at the time,' Krug, 46, remembers. 'We challenged each other to try stand-up Ñ 19 years later, and we're still doing it.'

'It was the one place for comedians to get started at the time; places like Harvey's weren't around then,' Krug says of the Old Town comedy venue, which he describes as the best in the Northwest.

'Harvey's markets itself better than any other club,' he says. 'There's always a stack of rŽsumŽs from comedians around the country who want to work there.'

Rice is one of an enclave of Portlanders whose primary job is to make people laugh. She remembers that Krug's first laughs came from his real-life experience growing up a preacher's kid.

'Boats, on the other hand, looked like your old shop teacher,' she says. 'You felt like you needed to pay attention, or you'd get homework.'

Directing and coaching

Krug, a Bend native, arrived in Portland after college.

'I originally wanted to be a theater director,' he says. 'I directed a few plays before I realized, 'Wait. I don't like actors.' '

Conversely, Johnson liked directing others.

'I left San Francisco in 1973 to coach the Lewis & Clark rowing team,' says the 50-year-old Johnson, explaining his nickname. He first took the stage at The Leaky Roof in '83. Today, in addition to his work as a comedian, Johnson continues to coach rowing teams on the Willamette River. He also recently finished a book about life's choppy waters, a topic he knows about firsthand.

'It's called 'Take My Disease, Please,' ' he explains. 'It's a comedian's approach to cancer.'

The story, fortunately, has a happy ending. Johnson has been cancer-free for six years.

Although both men still tour, life on the road has long since lost its glamour for the traveling comedians.

'It sounded good 19 years ago, but the fact remains: I'm still working Wenatchee,' Krug deadpans.

For this month's tour, Krug says, the two comedians are prepared for anything.

'We figure there are more of them than there are of us,' Krug says. 'If we're not funny, we'll have to take a cab home.'