Using the halted language of the hearing impaired, Brandon Baxter has just informed a roomful of people that he was born deaf, and they are laughing.
Baxter, a gangly, good-looking 23-year-old with farm-boy ears, seems emboldened by their reaction.
"One of the worst things about being deaf, for me," he confesses to the strangers, "is when I'm masturbating, I can't hear anybody come in the room."
"Which probably explains," he says, "why I got busted by my mom SO MANY TIMES!"
This piece of information causes audience members at "Boise's Funniest Person" to nearly fall on the floor in grand mal laughter seizures.
(If we're joking about deafness, why not epilepsy, too?)
Nothing was off-limits for Baxter and the 19 other amateur comedians who performed during round one July 6. Half of these local hopefuls will get a chance to take it up another hilarity notch sometime during the next three weekends.
Ten semifinalists will be announced and paired with comedy coaches at 8 p.m. July 13. (The coaches - some of Boise's top stand-up comics - will perform.) The 10 mentored semifinalists will compete again July 20, and five finalists will be announced. Those remaining amateurs will battle July 27 for $1,000 and the title of "Boise's Funniest Person."
Jen Adams, who books the comedians at Liquid Laughs, 405 S. 8th St., has been wanting to put together an event like this for years.
"We are hoping to generate some excitement about the comedy scene here in Boise," she says, "and also get Boise audiences a little more comedy savvy by having some of their friends actually go through the process."
One thing was made clear after round one: There are genuinely wacky folks lurking in the Treasure Valley. And judging from the sold-out crowd on Fourth of July weekend, people want to cheer for them.
It was a high-energy blur of three-minute routines. Subject matter ranged from intercourse with a dolphin - that's "zoophilia" for you science pervs - to being a single male living in Meridian. A few contestants looked nervous. Some weren't armed with particularly good material, resulting in uncomfortable moments of near silence. An out-of-place n-word from one woman drew gasps.
But the biggest surprise was how funny several of the amateurs actually were.
"The deaf guy is going to be the one to beat," predicted Benjamin Pierce, walking outside Liquid Laughs minutes after the show.
Pierce's quirky routine was one of the night's best - at least partly because it was delivered by a balding, self-deprecating man wearing glasses.
His opening line: "So I'm stabbing this lady in the park the other day ..."
Pierce explains later: "It's one of the things you have to accept when you're 35. You are now in the exact dead center of every FBI serial killer profile ever made. I'm 35. I'm single. I'm educated, but not formally. I live with my mother."
Pierce hosts trivia twice a week at local bars, so he's comfortable being in front of people, he says. But last weekend's "Boise's Funniest Person" was his first time doing stand-up on a stage. That's despite the fact that "comedian" was the No. 1 choice on every high school career-placement test he took, he says.
"It's a little late in life," Pierce says, "but I'm kind of reaching for the dream."
Much like Pierce, Baxter is hoping to gain experience and exposure as a potential comedian. He's a married father of a 5-month-old son, attends the College of Western Idaho and has a full-time job. His only other attempt at stand-up was at an open-mike night recently at watering hole Quinn's Restaurant & Lounge, he says.
A PieHole co-worker who performs stand-up suggested he audition for "Boise's Funniest Person."
Baxter wound up having a blast - even if he'll have to wait until this weekend to find out whether he made the cut as a semi-finalist.
"I was not expecting this sort of reaction," he explains via email.
"It was a lot of fun for me to be up on the stage, and I could actually hear people roaring with laughter. It took me by surprise. It was so loud I thought it would break my hearing aids."
"Funny story," Baxter adds. "I told my mom that I was going to enter the comedy competition, and she said to me, 'Brandon, you aren't that funny.'
"Guess who's laughing now?"
Michael Deeds' column appears Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life.