VALE – When Rio Hillman speaks, his posture is slightly stooped and his soft voice livens up. He casts his eyes toward the floor like a boy too nervous to make eye contact with his crush. It’s a shtick, something he does as he warms up to the crowd.
The comedian will share his wits and charm with Malheur County this Friday, July 12, at the Diamond Back Bar and Grill in Vale.
Hillman, in his 40s now, describes himself as a “late bloomer” in comedy and “recovering Midwesterner” who has worked as a warehouseman and kitchen assistant at a retirement home.
Born in Chicago and raised in Wisconsin for most of his life, Hillman arrived on the comedy scene a little over a decade ago. He said his interest in stand-up started in Wisconsin, when he and a friend went to a comedy show and felt disappointed by the comic’s performance.
“After watching a live show, I decided to give it a try,” Hillman said. “I thought I could do better. So I tried it out.”
From that point Hillman was “hooked” and has been doing comedy ever since, or well over a decade.
“I like to tell people I started doing comedy at the tail end of the VHS tape era,” said Hillman, who now performs comedy full-time. He said he hasn’t had to work side jobs for over five years.
A mainstream comic who writes jokes about daily occurrences that mixed audiences can relate to, Hillman smoothly delivers his punch lines with casual fluidity.
“I would say my comedy is a mixture of clean, dirty, smart, real life, racial, a little political, some drug references. I like to do call backs and innuendos – call backs meaning I bring back earlier jokes in my act,” Hillman said.
In a standup performance available online, Hillman tells jokes about his daily stereotypical interactions. He shared a story about how people act when he tells them he grew up in Wisconsin.
“It’s funny, when people find out when I live in Wisconsin, the first question they ask is ‘Is there black people there?’” he said.
Looking at the audience, perplexed, Hillman said, “I tell them, ‘Yeah there’s black people there. Just think of us like Visa – we’re everywhere you want to be… and some places you don’t want to be.’”
He hopes to bring that same reflexive inclusivity to each show, crafting jokes based on a guiding rule that “subtlety and timing are key principles to build a crowd up to the eventual punch line.”
Hillman, who is now based in the central California agricultural heartland, is making his way to Malheur County via the rural west.
He said he loves booking shows in rural, small towns like Vale.
“Doing those shows helps me in two ways. The first is I learn how to work a rowdy crowd and the second is learn how to book myself,” Hillman said. “I also believe small towns appreciate when live entertainment comes to the area, especially stand up comedy and if it’s good.”
The Friday dinner and comedy show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets for the show cost $7. Folks can also purchase a prime dinner and comedy show package for $30. Advance tickets are available at Diamond Back.
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