Playing football at Rocky Mountain College is no laughing matter, but it could be for Luke Keutla.
The senior wide receiver from Billings just happens to be an aspiring stand-up comedian.
"All my life people have been telling me that I'm funny," said the 21-year-old Keutla. "I was voted class clown (at Billings Senior). I just thought I would give (comedy) a try."
He has already made the semifinals of a talent contest being conducted at the Comedy Works club in Denver. Keutla will make his bid for the finals later this month.
On Saturday night, however, he will be in a Rocky uniform as the Bears open their football season in Miles City with a 6 p.m. game against the University of Mary at Denton Field.
All joking aside, Keutla is impressed with the makeup of this year's Rocky team.
"I see a lot of improvement in everybody from last year, especially (quarterback) Adam Sanchez," he said. "His arm has just gotten way better. He's really stepped up to become a leader on the team."
The 5-foot-8, 179-pound Keutla is also hoping to be a stand-up kind of player for Rocky. The 2000 Senior graduate has been slowed by a pulled hamstring in the past, but is looking to make a contribution this fall.
"Our team has worked hard in the offseason," said Keutla. "You could see that during preseason camp. The attitude on the team has just been way more intense. You can just feel it.
"Everybody wants to win games. You can see it."
Fun with stereotypes On the comedy front, Keutla entertained his fellow players during the team's annual "skit night" that was part of the preseason camp.
Some teammates now call him Dat Phan, which is the name of the comedian who won the nationally televised Last Comic Standing competition over the summer.
"He's very talented," Rocky coach Clay Moose said of Keutla's comedic skills. "He has tremendous stage presence. There's no hesitation in his delivery at all. He's very confident and definitely projects well off the stage."
Keutla, who is of Laotian descent, has competed on comedy stages as far away as Orlando, Fla. He specializes in poking fun at the prejudices and misconceptions some Americans have of Asians.
"Most of it is pretty clean. I've never heard anybody get offended by my jokes," he said. "They laugh about the fact I talk about my slanted eyes and how I'm not Chinese."
His humor is more story-telling than one-liners. He also relies quite a bit on facial expressions.
"I do a lot off stereotypes," he said. "It's something people can relate to."
Family audience Keutla's father, Sisavath, and mother, Khanthaly, live in Billings along with some of his five brothers and sisters. The family operates the new Samurai Garden restaurant in Billings.
"I make fun of myself pretty much, and my mom and dad," he said. "They laugh, but I don't think they really understand what they're laughing at. They kind of laugh because everybody else is."
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There is a serious side to Keutla's family.
His parents and all of his siblings fled communist-controlled Laos and lived in Thailand for a year before a church sponsored the family to come to the United States in the early 1980's.
Keutla is the only member of his family that was born in the U.S.
"All of my siblings are at least five years older than me," he said. "When I was growing up I never really had a playmate, so I just kind of sat back and listened to and watched everybody else.
"I think that's how my imagination came about."
Humble beginning Keutla said his comedy has come a long way since he struggled last spring at a talent contest put on by the Wild West Saloon in Billings.
"I did bad," he said. "The judges said I needed a lot of practice. They pretty much told me I wasn't funny. Instead of just quitting, I decided if this is what I want to do I've got to keep going."
He took part in open mike nights at Dr. Feelgood's in Billings. He made trips to Denver and Orlando.
"I'm going to take this as far as I can," Keutla said. "I think some really good things will come of it."
He is taking 18 credit hours this semester at Rocky, working two part-time jobs and playing football. Keutla still finds time to hone his comedy act.
He will be appearing at the R Club inside the Billings Hotel and Convention Center on Sept. 13. Later this month, he goes back to Denver and takes a five-minute shot at making the finals at a contest sponsored by the Comedy Central cable TV network.
Ready for battle For now, there's a football game to be played.
Keutla was an honorable mention all-state receiver as a senior in high school.
"He's got good hands," said Moose. "What we need from him is consistency."
Saturday's foe, the University of Mary, is ranked No. 8 in the NAIA Top 25 preseason poll.
"I think our team has a lot of heart and a lot of intensity this season," said Keutla. "I don't think it really matters what ranked team we play."
That's a pretty good punch line.
This time, though, Keutla wasn't looking for any laughs.