Two of the bigger comedy shows here in recent memory are going head-to-head Saturday night.
Bent Hanlen and Brandon Jerwa, local boys who went on to make good as comedians, will perform at Nikki’s in West Kelso, along with a headliner from Chicago who has been on national TV.
And a round of the Seattle International Comedy Competition, with 16 contestants, will raise the rafters at the LCC Rose Center.
The Chicago Stand Up Comedy Tour
8-9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nikki’s Bar and Grill, West Kelso. $5 cover charge.
Bent Hanlen decided he wanted to become a comedian 20 years ago when he was a student at R.A. Long High School.
“Dana Brown suggested I do standup comedy because every time I walked out on stage he started laughing,” Hanlen said of the late Mainstage Theatre director.
Within a few years of graduating from RAL in 1988, Hanlen was doing standup gigs at the Red Lion in Kelso and in Portland clubs.
“I wanted so bad to be on the stage and doing comedy,” he said.
Hanlen later attended Eastern Washington University, then spent six years doing comedy in Spokane.
“I was flat-lining,” he said of his career.
Hanlen said a chance he took in 2003 paid off. He moved to Chicago to study comedy writing for a year at the Second City, the troupe famous for giving such comedians as Bill Murray, John Candy and Mike Myers a start.
Studying writing there “helped me to decide a point of view,” said Hanlen, 40. “In comedy, if you don’t have a point of view, you’ll go nowhere.
“It helped my standup, too. They taught me the ‘fish out of water’ style” he uses.
“Moving to Chicago has been the best thing I’ve ever done.”
In the past six years, Hanlen has found steady work at Chicago-area clubs. He even got a gig at the Improv, one of the top comedy clubs in Chicago, something he’d dreamed of for 20 years.
It’s not an easy career. Unlike in Spokane, “in Chicago, you have to fight for stage time,” Hanlen said.
He still has a day job as a bellman at a big Chicago hotel.
Hanlen said for years he has wanted to bring his act home to the Longview-Kelso area. “It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, and I’m proud of it,” he said.
He hopes people who used to hear him years ago come to Nikki’s. “I want to erase the stain from all the bad jokes I told, even though I really believed in them.”
Hanlen has come up with a joke about South Kelso (it concerns where people keep their washing machines) and has other gags based on making fun of local quirks. “I do meth jokes, too,” he promised.
“I’ve never touched political humor, because it separates the crowd,” Hanlen said. “I always avoid politics, insulting people. What I talk about are my problems in life, what scares me, my retirement. I do my best to avoid cursing.
“The other thing I talk about is being half-Irish and half-Lebanese.”
In Chicago, Hanlen is billed as the “feature” act, the jokester who comes on before the headliner.
For the Kelso show, he’s bringing out a Chicago headliner, Tim Joyce. Joyce has appeared on Comedy Central and ABC’s “America’s Funniest People,” Hanlen said.
Scott Malone, a 1987 Mark Morris High School graduate, will open the show. Malone and Hanlen started out in 1988 driving to Portland to enter The Silver Dollar Pizza amateur comedy night.
The host for the show will be Brandon Jerwa, who graduated from R.A. Long in 1991.
Jerwa, who like Hanlen was active in high school theater, later became “Vance Astro,” a DJ at KRQT, an electronic musician and a comic book illustrator.
Seattle International Comedy Competition
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Wollenberg Auditorium, LCC Rose Center. $16.50. Tickets available in advance at Columbia Theatre box office. 575-8499 or (888) 575-8499.
No fewer than 17 comedians will get their chance to yuck it up during a round of the 30th annual Seattle International Comedy Competition.
The 16 contestants, who come from as far away as Australia, are in the first round of the competition.
After several more rounds, the winner will be chosen Nov. 29 at the Moore Theatre in Seattle.
Doing well in the competition can be a steppingstone to more bookings. Past winners such as Rod Long and Dwight Slade have established national careers.
The Saturda yevening will be hosted by veteran Seattle comic Vince Valenzuela.