Comedy pays off for Olympia man

The art of comedy is one that must be honed over a long period of time, said Gabriel Rutledge of Olympia.

"You just have to do it over and over again," the comedian said. "It's not like music or a band where you can be a great band after six months. Comedy's not like that.

"You're going to be horrible for awhile. It takes awhile to figure out how to be funny, how to get comfortable on stage."

Rutledge won the prestigious Seattle International Comedy Competition in 2004, when he'd been performing for four years. He'll perform Saturday in Olympia along with the 2005 and 2006 winners.

Although he performs all over North America, Rutledge hasn't had a lot of opportunity to show his stuff right here at home.

"The only place that I know of is Pellegrino's in Tumwater," he said. "I have performed there before. There's not a lot of comedy in Olympia historically."

That's changing, though. The Washington Center's Best of Comedy Underground in Box series launched in the spring and resumes Oct. 11, continuing through June 12. There will be shows the second Thursday of each month, except December.

Saturday's show, featuring Rutledge, Lamont Ferguson and Damonde Tschritter, brings comedy to the main stage.

"I'm definitely getting a lot of people I know at the show," Rutledge said. "I don't know if that's good or bad."

It can be harder performing in front of friends and family, he said. "I am going to pretend that I don't know them. That's my strategy."

Winning the competition really helped his career, Rutledge said. It's one of three well-known comedy contests in the United States; the others are in San Francisco and Boston.

"There's a lot of levels of success in comedy," he said, "and I still have a lot to go, but I'm paying the bills with this. My wife stays home. I get to do something I love. It's great."

If you go

What: The last three winners of the Seattle International Comedy Competition hit the main stage at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, which features a monthly comedy night in the black box.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia

Tickets: $22.50, $20.50 students and seniors, $11.25 youth

More information: 360-753-8586 or www.washingtoncenter.org

The comics

Gabriel Rutledge of Olympia, 2004 winner. Sample joke (from www.gabrielrutledge.com): "People have kids for different reasons. For my wife and I, it was because we ran out of condoms."

Lamont Ferguson of San Diego, 2005 winner. Sample joke (from www.myspace.com/tvfunnyman): "They got the pants that are cut really low, and there's the problem with it. You have the nerve to get mad at us guys when we stare at you. Like 'What are you looking at?' 'I'm looking at your a-- hanging out of your pants.'"

Damonde Tschritter of Vancouver, B.C., 2006 winner: We tried to find jokes of Tschritter's online, but couldn't, perhaps because the comic is known for his long and rambling stories.