Deaf Minnesota comedian making waves

A Minnesota comedian is overcoming a disability and making a name for himself on the stand-up circuit.

Sam Bondhus lets his audience know pretty quickly about his disability.

"When we mishear people we have our go-to phrases," he told a crowd at The Plus in Eau Claire last week. "Because I’m deaf, I have two. The first one is ‘That’s funny.’"

His comedy touches on familiar topics for stand-ups — like failing at dating — but from a deaf perspective.

"I’m gonna call it. I have to go to my grandmother’s funeral tomorrow morning," he jokes he gets as a rejection after a date.

"That’s funny," he retorts.

Bondhus is a relative newcomer on the circuit, building an audience by doing a few shows a week across the Midwest. But Sam felt comfortable on stage from a young age.

"There’s this one moment I was at a deaf and hard of hearing camp called Camp Sertoma in Brainerd, Minnesota," he recalled. "I made a whole bunch of my deaf peers laugh off one joke, and I was like, ‘wow, that that feels great. I want to do more of that.’"

Doctors diagnosed Sam as deaf shortly after his birth. He grew up in Faribault and attended Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf.

His self-deprecating humor delves into those school days and the absurdity of playing a game like musical chairs. Sam turns his hearing aids about as loud as they’ll go to keep a comedic rhythm on stage, and he even includes crowd work in his act.

"Sorry, uh, what’s your name?" he asked someone in the audience, then responded as if he couldn’t hear the answer. "That’s funny."

But things have gotten awkward when the hearing aids malfunction during a performance.

"I just kind of go, ‘what?’ to some random phrase, and people laugh," Bondhus said. "But I'm like, ‘yeah, I actually just didn't hear you.’ Like, that's not part of the joke."

It can take quite a while for him to reboot the hearing aids while the audience experiences their own version of silence. Sam says his peers are supportive, giving him notes, and encouraging him to lean into what makes him different.

For now, he’s still a full-time paraprofessional at Hermantown Elementary, but hopes to turn stand-up into a career.

"A lot of comedians want, like, this Netflix special and all that, and that'd be great," he said. "But I just want to do step one right now. Just make money off this."