There are TONS of comedians in Portland. Like, a lot. Good Funny People is a new regular segment that serves to highlight people putting in the good work, and making a name for themselves in the scene.
For our inaugural run I spoke with the lovably affable, Nariko Ott. Nariko is one of those guys who seems like they have a deep appreciation for bands like The Sword, Thin Lizzy, and just about any musical outfit that's ever used a guitar pedal that has the word "Screamin'" in it's name. He's also been on a real tear comedically speaking and juuuust got 3rd place in the Portland's Funniest Person Contest. I love talking to people like Nariko because their work ethic just makes you want to get up and go do something. We talked about that, terrible sleeping habits, making difficult decisions, being musical, and how terrible Arizona is.
PS: I didn't know exactly when to start recording so we just jump right into it. We started off talking about a recent trip to Seattle and how his job has affected how he processes jokes.
Nariko: I don't know if it's really solidified how much my job is getting in the way these days. Because when I'm just in stand up, I can walk around and live a life and have thoughts.
Danny: Oh for sure.
Nariko: ...and I don't necessarily write, but there's a nice flow to my thoughts, like, "Oh that might be something".
Danny: When you're in a different city and you can exist for a second. And if you just have one thing that you have to focus on which is performing at night--you can hang out in a place that you are not usually in and explore. Let your mind wander.
Nariko: Myself and Mike Coletta (Mike's a great Seattle comic, check him out) were talking about that if you don't have a job, like, how much more writing you can do. And I'm at the point now where I just sign up last at mics to write because that's the time I can do it. In that hour or two while I wait to go up.
Nariko: It's such a tiny window. Or, it's like I'll be at work and I'll think, "Did I say something funny at work? Can I try that out?".
Nariko: ...and I don't even want to think about anything at work. I just want to get the fuck out, you know? I'm just not in my right mind. I'm not existing. I'm just a robot.
Danny: Do you feel like you can complete tasks really well but the energy that's being put forth is for a thing that is not what you want to do? Like, it's a deviant force where you're doing things and you're getting money, but you're not doing the thing that helps you advance.
Nariko: Ehh, I don't feel like I'm not progressing, but I definitely feel hobbled in a lot of ways. It's hard because I'm tired as shit from work so how do you...I don't know. My energy level is a big problem.
Danny: Well, there's definitely no shame in feeling that way. We both know so many people who just mistreat their bodies.
Nariko: I'm probably one of those people. (laughs)
Danny: I'll talk to those people and be like, "How many hours of sleep did you get last night?" and they'll say, "4, and I worked 10 hours", and that is just duuuuuumb.
Nariko: My girlfriend was actually wanting me to talk to a doctor about it because I'm constantly hitting this wall at some point during the day. It started happening when I was maybe 27 or something. I started doing this thing where I'd be hanging out and it felt like someone unplugged me completely. Just like, (does a robot shutting down sound effect)
Danny: So you're just extra tired or emotional?
Nariko: A little of both. Because if I'm tired I just can't think. Like any and all energy is just sapped. And then I get real cranky and the thing that really goes away is I can't make decisions.
Nariko: It's fucking weird. If I'm super exhausted and I need to buy some breakfast cereal I'll walk into a place and I'll read labels for an hour. (pantomimes picking up a box) "This one has more sodium...but...uhh...I kinda...uhh...", where if I was well rested I'd be like, "I want granola. I know what I want. It's that one. Who gives a fuck!".
Also, my impulse control will just go away and I'll eat an entire "something".
Danny: An entire something?
Nariko: Whatever it is. A whole sleeve of Oreos. I don't know, a loaf of bread where you're just dipping it in butter. I won't be able to stop.
Danny: Well, you had some neat things happen to you recently. Number 3! Got that third place!
Nariko: That sick bronze medal!
(Nariko recently came in third place in the Portland's Funniest Person contest. It was a joy to watch.)
Danny: That must have been wild. Cause it really could have gone any way but I feel like you've been building and doing good work and you deserve it. Not to butter your bread too much.
Nariko: Nah, please do.
Danny: Oh no!
Nariko: If you could keep...just 5 more things. No, it was the shit and that finals lineup was so good that if I lost to anyone I'd be like, "Of course. That totally makes sense". There's no feeling bad in that.
Danny: Everybody had a lot of mutual respect for each other.
Nariko: And honestly I swung as hard as I could at that point. I wanted to do the "Rooster's" bit...
(Nariko has a joke where he talks about driving from Boise, ID to Portland, OR and seeing a weird, Podunk diner named Rooster's in the middle of nowhere. The joke starts out a happy act out of him as a cartoon chicken saying how great the food is. The chicken character eventually starts spouting off conservative tirades, and then goes Cuba Gooding Jr. explaining how the illuminati works and how 9/11 was a controlled demolition. He also makes several well placed chicken noises throughout. It's great.)
...cause it was the one that was super weird and I like it, and from the Sunday to the following Monday I did 17 mics/shows.
Danny: Woof. That's very admirable. I'm pretty sure I did about 5. Probably less.
Nariko: I just kept going. I had to work that bit out cause it wasn't where I wanted it to be. I cut everything that didn't work and I added things. It was good to do and tried really hard. It was all I had, and I had to just put it all out there. Because what happened to me the year before is I didn't even make it past the first round because I was like, "I'll start with some weaker stuff", and that was a huge mistake and I spent that whole next year kicking myself in the ass.
Danny: Well, I think you did good. How long have you been here again?
Nariko: It'll be 5 years in May.
Danny: You still like Portland?
Nariko: Oh yeah, I fucking love the city.
Danny: I always wonder because some people can take a lot of Portland and then some are just like, "Nahhhhh".
Nariko: Well, I came from Arizona.
Nariko: That place is so horrible and I always hated everything about it, but I couldn't leave! I was always working on something and I'd be abandoning people if I left, and then I finally got to a place where I could leave and I took it.
Danny: How did that happen?
Nariko: I was in a band at the time and I was also in a sketch comedy group and I was juuuuust starting to dabble in comedy. The whole year before--which I don't count because I was doing like 1 open mic a month--there was a lot going on. I was living with a girl, I was going to college, I was just doing a lot of things all at once.
Danny: Burning that midnight oil.
Nariko: Every second of every day was spent on something which was cool, I really enjoyed it. It was a good time. But then me and that girl broke up and I realized I could just transfer schools. And then there was the band I loved that I had also been in for 10 years. I figured, "Well, I tried that", it's not like I didn't give that a go. And honestly I wasn't that good. The band was good! I was the weak link for sure.
Danny: I do know that feeling. I was in a band before comedy, too.
Nariko: You know, I don't think I would've been able to do comedy if I didn't do music first. Just because I was really scared of the stage. The first year where I was just singing in the band I'd walk up and be horrified. Just my heart in my fucking eyes. I couldn't breath, but once I started the fear would go away. I'd be a note into a song and think, "Okay. I'm fine". The second I'm doing my thing. It was a big lesson.
And then I was in a joke band being funny, and was part of that sketch group I mentioned earlier, and eventually I realized, "Oh, I'm doing everything but the one thing I would really love to do.".
Breaking up with that girl was also part of it. Because it wasn't just breaking up with someone, it was thinking in the back of my head, "Man, I'm not doing what I want to do".
Danny: Oh, for sure.
Nariko: And she wanted to get married. Wanted to be very serious and I realized I was on the wrong road.
Danny: Was she super square?
Nariko: No no! She's an amazing, rad lady and I still talk to her.
Danny: She married now?
Nariko: She got married maybe a year later. And she's doing awesome and it's actually been the best decision both of us have ever made. We were both like, "Oh thank God...".
Danny: That's great! I'm all about it when people make good decisions that can be difficult to make.
Nariko: It was horrendously painful but at the same time it was the best thing ever. I don't think I've ever been happier then when doing stand up. Just in my everyday life. No other time in my life have I felt like I'm slowly getting better at something as I go. I used to not be able to do this and now I totally can.
Danny: You develop different skill sets.
Nariko: Other people who have good self esteem and a good upbringing can just practice piano until they're good or whatever the hell that thing is, but I've never had that. It's just weird for me even being this old where I think to myself, "All I have to do is not quit.".
Danny: Do you feel like you've been able to focus more or are you still burning that candle from both ends?
Nariko: Kind of? I still sleep in two shifts in order to do everything.
Danny: That is so foreign to me. I could not do that.
Nariko: It's rough. I'd love to not.
Danny: When do you sleep?
Nariko: I sleep from midnight to about 6AM, and recently it's been more like 1AM to 6AM. And then I wake up and go to work from 7AM to 3PM. Then I come home and sleep from 4PM to 6:30PM maybe?
Danny: You're like 1.5 sleeping right now.
Nariko: Well, from what I understand you get about 3 or 4 sleep cycles a night. And from figuring it out on my own I have a sleep cycle about every hour and 45 minutes. I'm kinda getting two thirds of my sleep cycle in at night and then getting the rest in the afternoon. And if I take one that's too short I might as well just socked in the face. It's about the same as a mild concussion.
Danny: You going anywhere soon? Other cool things?
Nariko: Right now I'm parring off the job as much as I can. I only really work 4 days a week instead of 5 which is good. Would love to get that down to 0. So I'm working that out. I'm trying to buy a car that just gets insane gas mileage. I want to tour and get out there. Perform all the time.
Danny: You got the touring musical instinct!
Nariko: Yeah! And it's so much better because you don't have 4 or 5 people with you with gear and a big heavy van.
Danny: Worst case scenario you bring an extra microphone.
Nariko: Exactly. I don't have to carry my PA up a bunch of stairs or down into a basement.
Danny: Well, let me know. Post about it.
Nariko: For sure. Thanks!
Nariko performs all over the place. You can see him headlining at Down To Funny @ The Analog in Portland next Thursday 8/13 @ 9PM