State of Wonder

Curtis Cook Throws Curveballs

By April Baer (OPB)
Portland, Oregon May 28, 2016 3:15 p.m.
Cook says, "I have a clear view of what the finish line for the joke I want to write should be."

Cook says, "I have a clear view of what the finish line for the joke I want to write should be."

April Baer / OPB

Comedian Curtis Cook excels at a kind of curveball - unassuming riffs that quietly steer you right where he wants you.


Cook has been on fire lately, telling tales on his own post-feminist angst, calling out racial hang-ups and generally skewering progressive Portland. He's co-hosting several showcases around town, including Earthquake Hurricane and the new Do What You Love show at We Work. And he's writing columns for Willamette Week.

We sat down with Cook to talk about how working in Portland has affected his writing and style. Spoiler alert: This is the extra-long version of our conversation.

Just a few highlights:

On why Oberlin was good training for working stages in Portland:
I grew up outside of Cleveland in a small, relatively conservative town. I spent a lot of time thinking one day I'd grow up and move to a place full of liberals and hippies and they'd get it. And going to Oberlin showed me that liberals and hippies can also be awful people. It was just a lot of people screaming about their beliefs, having very important meetings about nothing. We were all going through different phases — it's college. Some people decided "I"-statements and trust falls were their thing. I decided Old Crow and PBR were my thing, and that I should have gone to a different school.

On how Portland has changed his performance style:
I'm more relaxed. Before … there was this big push. We were post Richard Pryor, post-Bill Hicks, post-Lenny Bruce … everyone started leaning toward social consciousness [in stand-up ]… I got suckered into this feeling that stand-up was inherently brave. Then I moved to Portland and I realized that it's only brave if you're taking your ideas to people who don't necessarily agree with you.

On keeping his work fresh:
I've been doing stand-up for a little over five years now, which is nothing. It's a drop in the bucked. But what I've started to realize is the performative aspect of [stand-up] should be able to change for every performance. Maybe I tell this joke every time, but every single time, a person in one of the front three rows reacts, and I can talk to them for thirty seconds. That thirty seconds is the magic of the performance for me. That's thirty seconds you'll never be able to duplicate. That's something that's just for you and the audience.

Curtis Cook is part of seven showcases at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival —  five intense days of nonstop comedy with performers from around the country. It runs June 1–5. Check him out.