Think Out Loud

Optimistic comedian Jaren George voted one of the ‘Funniest Five’

By Allison Frost (OPB)
April 1, 2022 5:28 p.m. Updated: April 8, 2022 6:53 p.m.

Broadcast: Friday, April 1

Jaren George was voted "most optimistic" comedian in Willamette Week's  Funniest Five poll

Jaren George was voted "most optimistic" comedian in Willamette Week's Funniest Five poll

Courtesy Aaron Lee


Every year Willamette Week polls local comedians and other industry insiders about who they think are the funniest and highlights the winners as the “Funniest Five.” Jaren George made the list this year, and the paper also characterized him as the “most optimistic.” I really want to cheer people up,” he told WW. “Comedy! I’m here. Let’s do it.” He says he mostly steers clear of dark humor and hard sarcasm, gravitating more toward his own experience. Being a Black man in predominantly white Portland features in his sets, but also his love of Kit Kat bars. George joins us to tell us more about his love of the Portland comedy scene and his own approach to stand-up.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Every year, Willamette Week asks folks in the comedy business, comedians, bookers, improvisers, podcasters and promoters who they think the funniest Portlanders are. This year, Jaren George was among the top five. What’s more, the paper called him Portland’s most optimistic comedian. Jaren George, welcome to TOL.

Jaren George: Hey Dave, thank you. Happy Friday.

Miller: Happy Friday to you. So, one of the cool things about the way Willamette Week does this every year is they turn to your peers to ask these questions. That whole list of folks that I mentioned, comics and bookers and improvisers and podcasters. What does it mean to you to have been selected by people who know this world the best?

George: It’s an honor. I really admire a lot of folks who been doing a lot of shows around here in Portland or been producing and in many mixed forms and a lot of comedians here I admire as well. I learned a lot from a lot of my peers and it feels really good and I’ve been really excited about it.

Miller: Do you think of yourself as optimistic?

George: It’s funny, that word, because it kind of stuck with me, but it’s not blind optimism. For me, I think I just recently described to my friend, it’s not blind optimism, but I just know the right time to cry, [chuckling], but also, to self care, find ways to challenge myself, things like that.

Miller: But it’s interesting. I’m trying to figure out what it means in the context of being a comedian. I think this is as much about what either editors or writers, or writers at Willamette Week, or your peers see tonally in terms of your style, right? As opposed to being super dark and edgy. It’s a more optimistic style. I’m just trying to figure out how you read this, this honorific?

George: Oh yeah, I just try to be relatable. I know that times, especially living in Portland and even if there’s a lot of Black folks who listen to my story and things like that, I think a lot of it is relatable and it makes me feel good knowing I’m telling my story and it kind of resonates off some people. Sometimes not, which is fine. But a lot of the problems, especially my life, or even just challenges here and there, I like to make a joke out of it, or at times, especially social cues and things like that.

Miller: Let’s listen to a clip from one of your shows. This is from about three years ago from the Helium Comedy Club: “I am trying to get used to Portland, but here’s the thing, people are too nice. Especially openly nice passive aggressive drivers, what I’m talking about? They’re too nice. I’m walking and I was trying to cross the street and there was no crosswalk, there was no light. So I do this move where I’m just looking, I’m just, ‘oh I see a Toyota Prius quietly driving by’. Okay, I’ll let him go. And then they see me do that move, where I’m just looking to see if I should cross, but I’m walking down, I’ll let him go and then I’ll cross, it’s a win-win. He saw that move and he immediately did all these things where he just stops his car suddenly, flashed his headlights, honks at me, rolls down his window and does this move, like [audience laughs] Cuz he saw me looking right and I was ‘no man, keep it going, we don’t get time’. What are you playing, Portland progressive bingo, what are you doing, huh?’ He has a scorecard [inaudible], you’re just ‘oh yes, good Samaritan act, yes 40 points. And a Black man, double the points.’” [Audience laughing]

Miller: You grew up in New York City. What brought you to Portland?

George: Oh man, a lot of things. I always pinch myself because it’s not even random or anything, because  back in 2010 I worked at a summer camp and I had a friend who was my co-counselor and he lived in Portland. He told me cool things about it. I knew Portland for a little bit, even before Portlandia, before anyone thinks that. But one of my favorite bands, The Thermals, was from Portland. And before Portland, I was in San Francisco for a bit. So I checked it out early 2013 and then I made a decision and I moved up.

Miller: You do go back sometimes to New York City, I know from your act. What’s it like when you go back to New York these days, after becoming West Coast-ified.

George: Oh boy. Well number one, I don’t know my way around anymore. And that’s number one. Number two, I’m a person who, I have that kind of peace and quiet at times. I think that’s why when I’m working at camps, where it’s upstate New York, and looking at the stars and things like that, I like going to the park. There’s so much happening in New York, a lot of distractions. And when I moved to the west, it felt easier. It felt more laid back, and I think that’s something that I really liked. And it’s just [that] there’s a different atmosphere, and I’m just trying to keep up with all the distractions and everything when I’m in New York, but here in Portland I feel really at ease.

Miller: How did you get started in stand up?

George: I got started … my friend took me to Curious Comedy Theater, and I just wanted to get better at public speaking to be honest. I always liked to do storytelling. And one of the things I do in storytelling is because of my job. When I worked at a summer camp, a lot of times kids have homesickness and things like that. So I like to tell stories and things like that. So I thought it was a good idea because …

Miller: So it was just professional development, you want to be better at talking to kids for your jobs, so you figured you’d do stand up?

George: Yeah. But mostly all around though, but it’s just, I don’t like taking classes. I took a public speaking class and I just didn’t like how there’s ‘all right Jaren, you’re President Obama alright, so I’m gonna give you this cue card. And everything. I don’t want this, I want to talk like myself. I like to talk about my experience.

Miller: It seems it’s such a wonderfully surprising way to get into standup because I guess I would figure that would be a side benefit of getting more comfortable talking in front of people. But I guess I’ve never heard of somebody starting this with that as the end goal.

George: Yeah. I mean, to me, I feel with comedy, it just grew and grew more. Comedy really helps me professionally, basically. The public speaking, I do a lot of facilitation and it just becomes easier and I just love the idea. I’m able to go there. The first time I went up there, I said this long story and I ran out of time. So I’m going back next time, I’m cutting out the not important part, and I was going to get to the funny, and it just worked out that way.

Miller: How do you feel your craft has evolved over the years? It seems that there is one lesson there, is editing and efficiency. But in recent years, how do you feel your act is changing?

George: I think I got more personal. Before, I know a lot of comments will probably remember my jokes were just, ‘oh yeah, cats, his mom. Yeah, that’s what the jokes [were]. But now, it’s just more personal and just things that I know myself and know my true self, and just feeling more vulnerable on stage.

Miller: Has that been hard? Was that a hard thing to get used to, to opening up in a certain way?

George: Yeah. Because I remember back in high school times, you’re trying to fit in and things that. I won’t say I really made a lot of friends, especially I remember high school, because I don’t listen to the same kind of music and things like that. Like I said one of my favorite bands was The Thermals, so you know where that goes. So, it’s really hard for me to open up because I’m just I’m so different.  But especially here in Portland, it really made me feel kind of cool to know a lot of people, especially other Black folks who, they listen to so much cool music, different styles and things that. So it was really, yeah, I was really inspired.

Miller: If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking right now with a Portland comedian Jaren George, who was recently named one of Portland’s funniest people by Willamette Week. Let’s have a listen to another clip: “I used to be an after school instructor. Any educators out there. Anyone? I’ll let right now, kids are really nosy, they’re in your business. Right? This second grader named Ethan — by the way, is there an adult named Ethan in here? See it never happens, goddamn. I’ve never met an adult named Ethan. Never. So he came up to me, this is how nosy kids are. He came up to me and he’s just hey, Mr G and I was ‘hey buddy, how’s it going going?’ ‘Good, but Mr G, hey, I saw you’. Just like that, all dead pan. I don’t where you saw me. He was ‘I saw you have Fred Meyer the other day’ and he went all details. He was ‘let me tell you, you’re on aisle 8, you had the frozen food section, you had a shopping cart and you only had your PJs on, and you had, it was just a regular t-shirt, you were shivering. Well, because you’re skinny’ and I was ok buddy, move along. And he’s ‘one more thing, Mr G, Mr G one more thing, do you always cry in the parking lot before you drive away?’ "

Miller: Did you like working with kids?

George: Yeah it’s been a good probably more than it’s been 10 years. I worked in outdoor camps, summer camps and after school. A lot of different settings but it’s been … Someone told me I had the patience, and things like that so I was just okay that’s been easy. I have an IT Degree so I don’t know how this all started.

Miller: Do you work in IT as well?

George: Currently, yeah.

Miller: Does that generate less material than working as a counselor or working in some kind of after school program?


George: Kind of. I feel there’s that whole customer service aspect of it. Which is really always interesting.  But I worked within the company, so it’s not just random folks. But I mean it’s a little bit, because I’m going back right into it, so I probably won’t have so much ideas so far, and it’s working remotely is kind of weird. Oh there you go. Yeah that would be like one thing.

Miller: Well what has it been like for you? Now public life has been starting again, but for a big chunk of time you couldn’t do in person what you really wanted to do. How did you deal with that?

George: Well, the wonderful thing is, with technology, which I do adore, we’ve got this streaming. I was helping  with this group that we call Spec Script. We usually do live shows. What we do is that we write a script, or we have a guest or a writer to write a script about a tv show they never saw before, and I did one about Dragon Ball Z. Because I’ve never watched Dragon Ball Z, because I watched with my friends, always fall asleep. So always doing things like that. I started a podcast, IT Desk. And they’re done a couple of zoom shows and the wonderful thing about this community, we started doing a drive-through open mic as well. So we got around to keep bringing the funny in ways.

Miller: Can you describe the improv-based podcast you started called the IT Desk?

George: It was a fun project. First, where I was supposed to be the IT Person, and I would have a guest, and I would help them fix their problems, whatever. It’s all improvised.  The easiest way I can say, is it’s like Crank Yankers meet Comedy Bang Bang. But there’s an important part which is just the tech support call, and I switched it up, I think, after the third episode, where I have two guests, and this is hard times when I’m scheduling zoom, is that I have both of them, but they don’t know who they’re talking to, but they worked mutually before. And later on they guess to see who they were talking to. So it’s both roles. One would be the customer or client, and the other person would be the IT Person.

Miller: Let’s have a listen to part of a recent episode from, I think about a week and a half ago. The IT person is Amanda Lynn Deal and the person with a serious problem is Dylan Reiff:

Reiff: My son was streaming an anime called Doki Doki Muji and I was passing by. I’ve seen him watch this anime before, but there was a bare bottom on screen. Yeah. I’m trying to figure out how, how I can make sure this never happens again.’

Deal: Did you see both cheeks or just one?

Reiff: I, hand on the bible, I didn’t want to look too much longer than I had to. So I am pretty sure both cheeks were present, but I can’t be sure. I just don’t want it to happen again.

Deal: Okay, so do you, do you want to block all anime or just this?

Reiff: This one particular. Yeah, I mean, I’d like to start with blocking this particular episode, but I’m really trying to figure out how to delete it from the service. I’d get off of Netflix.

Deal: Okay. You want me to call Netflix and tell them to take down the show permanently?

Reiff: Yeah, I am not a technical guy, obviously that’s why I’m calling you, but I would appreciate it if you can just make sure no one sees this.

Deal: Okay. I don’t really have any connections in Netflix. I might know a guy who knows a guy. but it’s a really long process to remove content from a streaming platform. I don’t know, I heard what happened to Joe Rogan and Neil Young, but it was the whole thing. So it might be a little tough.

Reiff: No, I’m unfamiliar with both of those people.

Deal: Okay. I would suggest starting your own hashtag, something catchy.  I don’t know, I’m not really good at this. Maybe hashtag no butts or no.

Reiff: Excuse me, did you just curse?

Deal: No, I said no butts. Is it a curse? I’m sorry.

Reiff: Can you please say bare bottom?

Deal: Bare bottom. Okay, maybe the hashtag anime, not a fan of me, and then see if maybe that helps get some traction.

Miller: That is from Jaren George’s improv-based podcast, The IT Desk, from about a week and a half ago. You have a lot of great stuff about Kit Kats. Can you explain your fascination with this candy bar?

George: I mean there’s not much to explain. I just like the simplicity of the Kit Kat bar times, especially when I remember the first time I had one, I was hungry and man it was so good. And it was one I had in London. They even have an imported kind, that one is top secret, I mean that one is really good. But I do like the regular Kit Kats and I think I just love the way fruit or chocolate boom, that’s all you need. And you crunch it, sometimes I can just have it in my mouth, let it sit in there, the chocolate melts and I can just eat the wafers bit by bit. I just love it.

Miller: You have a bit where you’ve started shows by throwing out Kit Kats to everybody and then you tell them ‘you have to give this back to me because that’s my dinner’

George: Yes, that’s the important part.

Miller: Do people DO that? Do they then collect them and throw them back or do they keep them?

George: The wonderful thing about that bit is how much I sell it. I think I would say two out of the three times I’ve ever done it, I successfully got back my Kit Kats. Third time, I think that was the first time. It was just, yeah, I did not sell it. Like I’m smiling, and I’m just alright, I need those back. Because I think it’s really important to kind of just make it fun, even from the beginning. And it just progressed better. Especially, when I did it at the park one time, it was great.

Miller: Although there’s also something hilarious about people not giving them back, and having the implication that they’re just taking your dinner, you’re gonna go hungry.

George: Right? I plead my case. I was, these are expensive. Did you know they had a 10-pack, I remember, and you can get from Family Dollar or Dollar Tree. Remember back in the day, it was a dollar, right? And now, they put it to an eight-pack, and it’s $2.50 or $3 for this pack. I just plead my case, and usually just alright Sharon, we’ll send it back to.

Miller: The model for a lot of Portland comics who get recognition and success in Portland is to eventually head to LA. We have talked to a lot of folks over the last 12, 14 years who have done that. We have about a minute left. But I’m curious if that is your ultimate goal too?

George: I really don’t know right now to be honest. I would like to see about going back to New York. I have family there, but we’ll see.

Miller: Jaren George, congratulations and thanks very much.

George: I appreciate it. Thank you.

Miller: That’s Jaren George, Portland comedian chosen as one of the funniest five comics in Portland by Willamette Week’s recent survey of comedians. You can see Jaren this Saturday at Portland’s Cruise Room Annex, where he’s co-hosting a show called Comedy, the Musical. You can also find a link to more of his stand up appearances on our website,

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