On a Wednesday night in downtown Boise, College of Idaho senior Eli Nary took the stage for open mic night at Liquid Laughs. It was his first attempt at stand-up comedy. The result, terrible. The experience, thrilling.
Now, four months later, Nary finds himself as one of five finalists for the title of Boise’s Funniest Person and $1,000, which he’ll compete for on Aug. 1 —but don’t try and get tickets, they’re sold out.
“I really just want to go out there and give the best possible eight minutes I can,” Nary said about his final-round performance. “Just go out there, get everybody laughing and keep them laughing. I think that is my job this week, and that is a super fun job to have.”
Going into his first open-mic night, Nary had an outline of which jokes he wanted to tell. The night opened up with a warning to the audience of what type of jokes they could expect from first time comics. While that was happening, Nary slowly crossed of all his jokes, until he only had a couple left, and then went out for his set.
“It wasn’t great, but I had fun,” he said.
Instead of wallowing in the mire, Nary continued to go back and hone his craft and eventually auditioned for Boise’s Funniest Person and made the final cut of 20. He then made the cut down to 10, and the final cut of five last week.
“Last week went really well, but it kind of freaked me out because it went so well,” Nary said. “I didn’t know if I could do it again.”
But his comedic coach for the competition, local comedian Eric Lyons, told him not to focus on winning but to go out, be funny and make people laugh.
And having a coach has been beneficial for the young comedian, helping to craft and frame his sets (he’ll have an eight-minute slot for the final) and provide feedback on what jokes are funny, and those that don’t make the cut.
When it comes to material, Nary looks to his own life experiences and pop-culture for inspiration.
“I’m really self-deprecating [in my acts], because that’s just how I am in real life,” he said.
He also pulls from his educational experiences at the C of I. For starters, he is a theatre major, so being on stage is nothing new. But he also pulls from skills learned in writing, journalism and history.
“With a liberal arts education, it allows me to pull information from a lot of areas and but also think critically and sift through my thoughts,” he said.
In contrast to theatre performances, Nary enjoys the automatic feedback and validation the audience provides. If you’re being funny, the audience tells you. If not, it’s crickets. And for his final performance for Boise’s Funniest Person, Nary hopes it’s the former. But, win or lose, Nary has caught the hi-jinx and doesn’t plan to look back.