As the sun beat down on Boiseans having a sweaty, summer dance party to Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside at Alive After Five June 26, Geno "Sneezz" Lopez was led into the low-ceilinged and dimly lit basement of local comedy club Liquid Laughs, wearing a bright yellow mumu and green headdress.
"I'm half banana and half green monster thingy," he explained to the panel of three judges.
With a tall boy of PBR in one hand and a bass guitar in the other, Lopez then spoke of his belief that he'd make a good sitcom janitor, and played a song about his crush on the T-Mobile girl at Wal-Mart.
"I'm super-happy the banana-lizard costume wasn't the most interesting thing about you," said Jen Adams, Liquid's talent buyer and co-producer of Boise's Funniest Person.
Lopez was then thanked for his time and sent on his way.
"I think the next guy coming up is deaf," said Matt Bragg, another of the three audition judges. He was deaf. The following contestant was a seven-time state champion in powerlifting who specialized in Simpsons impressions and wanted to write an SNL skit called Speed Racist. Then there was an ex-mime who sang a song about the proper pronunciation of her name. And it only got stranger from there.
And that is how things went at the first round of auditions for Boise's Funniest Person, a massive amateur comedy competition that will run the whole month of July at Liquid Laughs, culminating with a grand prize package of more than $1,000.
After the initial auditions June 26 and June 29, and a callback tryout, 20 funny folks with less than three months of comedy experience were chosen by Adams, Bragg and the event's promoter, Sarah Shamblin Foster of WithAnH Productions. Those 20 will give stand-up a shot at Liquid Saturday, July 6. The top 10 will then be paired with mentors from the local comedy scene who will help shape their raw material into polished bits to be performed the following three Saturdays at 8 p.m. The contestants will be whittled down until only one remains: Boise's Funniest Person.
That person will get $1,000 and the comedian who mentors them will get $500.
"The club and myself as the booker wanted to put a competition together, because we think it generates interest," said Adams. "But we didn't want it to be a regular competition."
They also didn't want it to be like the club's Wednesday open mic night with a prize. Instead, Adams decided to use the concept to find some new blood.
"Boise is great because people are really into that funky local vibe, and we wanted to capitalize on that," said Adams.
The key to bringing in newbies, however, is ensuring that it doesn't descend into the kind of cutthroat backstabbing comedy is notorious for--everything from squabbles over stage time to personal disagreements.
"It feels vulnerable," said Adams. "Especially if you're doing stuff that autobiographical. I want people to feel comfortable."
But Foster said she hopes the environment will put people at ease.
"It's still a small enough city that it's your friends and neighbors performing, and that makes it a fairly welcoming place," said Foster.
Winners will be selected through a hybrid system in which both expert judges and audience reaction will be taken into account. Adams and Foster said that the format was chosen to ensure the contest is actually about who brings the funny, not who brings the most friends.
Though the $1,000 prize is definitely a major motivation for people to brave the stage--and $500 for the winning mentor isn't too shabby, either--it's also a chance to grow the local comedy scene. Brett Badostain, one of the local comedians who will serve as a mentor, says that since he benefited greatly from the guidance of other comedians when he started out, he's hoping to be paired with someone whose goal is to keep going, not just cut and run at the end of July. Badostain said he doesn't really have a strategy for mentoring yet, just that he wants it to be constructive.
"I don't want to be that overbearing person that says, 'This is how things are done,'" he said. "The people I gravitated toward listening to were the ones that said, 'This joke is funny, but let's see if we can make it funnier.'"
Normally, Liquid Laughs boasts one comic in residence each weekend. But since Saturdays will be taken over by Boise's Funniest Person, the other days will be filled with a treasure trove of other ha-ha-happenings.
Fridays will also see a monthlong competition for improv. Thursdays, Sundays and the late shows on Fridays and Saturdays will be a hodgepodge of one-offs from local and touring pros.
And all those events--from the competitions to the one-offs--are only $5, half the normal price of admission to Liquid Laughs.
One event Adams is especially excited about is Girls Night Out, an evening of all female comics that Adams wants to see boost female involvement in the notoriously male-dominated and all-too-often wildly misogynistic world of comedy.
"Most of the time, in the comedy club, the too-tall, too-short, fat, way-too-skinny, uncomfortable, balding white guy tells jokes about how he can't get dates," said Adams. "The idea of the show is not excluding men. Men are welcome to come. But you look at the audience during that show I just described, the men are having a great time and the women are squirming or just laughing 'cause her date is having a good time. The idea is to flip that."
Adams says she would like to see that series produced quarterly, especially as the growing cast of local female comics continue developing their acts.
"The bigger goal of this is to have people that live in Boise think of Boise as a comedy town, to think of it as something they want to do on a regular basis and to know that the comedy club has good comedians," said Adams. "And we do, even if people don't come to see them."