Who Runs Boise's Funniest Instagram Account? 

@OverheardBoise is a gigantic success—and a complete mystery

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Overheard in Boise

"I hope they turn the music back up so I can fart." - Overheard at Broadway Bar

In a simpler time, before the smartphone changed everything, this person talking about farts at Broadway Bar would have been quietly judged and then forgotten. But this isn't a simpler time, this is the age of social media, so a nearby eavesdropper grabbed their phone and sent that quote to the Instagram account Overheard in Boise (@OverheardBoise).

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  • Overheard in Boise

Some time later, Overheard in Boise posted a picture of the quote for its nearly 17,000 followers. It received hundreds of likes. Unless they're one of them, the flatulent person at Broadway Bar probably has no idea that they've achieved internet fame.

This is the way of "overheard" Instagram accounts, which flourish in most major cities and on college campuses. They aggregate the funniest things people overhear for everyone to enjoy.

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  • Overheard in Boise

When Overheard in Boise launched on July 6, 2017, the account primarily posted pictures of Boise Weekly's Eye Spy cartoons.

But weekly cartoons copied from the local newspaper didn't draw much interest, so the account switched gears and encouraged Boiseans to send in the funny things they'd overheard.

The pivot to submissions unleashed a deluge of content. Overheard in Boise began publishing a quote every day.

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  • Overheard in Boise

Someone at the bar inside Albertsons said, "I can't go to jail, what am I going to do about my skincare routine?"

Someone at a nice French restaurant told their partner, "This is our first Valentine's Day where I'm your only girlfriend."

And someone at Flying Pie on Fairview said, "Are we listening to Nickelback?? People are trying to eat!!"

This offbeat comedy earned Overheard in Boise a huge following in just two years. The Overheard team now receives about 25 submissions every day, and that number doubles during public events. The team works together to pinpoint the most hilarious quotes.

"We have different ideas of what is funny, demented, or has bad timing, so it's a well-oiled checks and balances system, fueled by beer and hard alcohol," the Overheard team wrote in email.

The submissions paint a picture of Boise and its citizens one non-sequitur at a time.

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  • Overheard in Boise

"People say the weirdest stuff when they think no one is listening, and are comedians without even knowing it... you can overhear hilarious things from a hungover college student, or from a dad at Target," the Overheard team wrote. "It's comical, and sometimes shocking, to see ourselves and our community reflected back at us."

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  • Overheard in Boise

Laughing With You, Or At You?

Thousands of people eagerly await Overheard in Boise's posts, but internet fame is always accompanied by criticism. Disgruntled followers disparage the account for being alternately too lame, too liberal, too immature and too offensive.

The folks at Overheard in Boise intentionally toe the line between funny and shocking. They make an effort to "keep anything too hardcore out of it" because "hate mail from moms is the worst," but overall they seem amused by their detractors and decry the hypocrisy of social media pearl-clutchers.

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  • Overheard in Boise

"Everyone likes a good laugh when it's not at their own expense," the Overheard team wrote. "We've found it's all funny and 'likes' until YOU are offended."

The team even preserves its favorite hate mail in an Instagram story, because, its members said, "it's almost funnier than the actual account."

However, some people in the Instagram community think the account has gone beyond poking fun at critics and trolls. One local influencer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that as it gained popularity it "kind of became the troll," blasting followers over unwelcome remarks. Those followers decide for themselves whether the account is funny or unnecessarily adversarial, but Overheard in Boise does resemble an internet troll in one respect—the people running it are completely mysterious.

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  • Overheard in Boise

The Anonymous Influencer

The people behind the account repeatedly declined to reveal their identities to Boise Weekly, only communicating via email to retain "ultimate anonymity." However, they did offer a few personal details.

"We each are from Boise and own local companies, can usually be found hanging out on Eighth Street, and are not California transplants, which people love to assume," they said.

Conversations with other local influencers indicate that the account is run by three longtime friends, one of whom works in media. Reportedly, none of them have personal Instagram accounts.

But these details—whispered by people who refused to unmask Overheard in Boise—present only a blurry outline of the people who are perhaps Boise's most influential comedians.

The level of secrecy in local Instagram circles confounds. Influencers, by definition, seek notoriety, yet almost every local influencer BW spoke to requested some degree of anonymity. Some did not want to be associated with the Overheard in Boise account. Others did not want their ownership of popular accounts to become public knowledge.

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  • Overheard in Boise

Big Business

A career in Instagram may sound trivial, but social media is a booming industry. Even a goofy account like Overheard in Boise is enmeshed in contracts and nondisclosure agreements.

The Overheard team does not actually own the @OverheardBoise account. The account was created by a popular Boise influencer who snaps up desirable Instagram usernames and sells them on the secondary market. The owner of @OverheardBoise spoke to Boise Weekly on condition of anonymity.

A nondisclosure agreement prevents the Overheard team from revealing who owns the account. The contract allows the group to use @OverheardBoise for free until it buys it from the owner. It also stipulates that the price of the account increases alongside the number of followers. If the Overheard team doesn't eventually buy the account, the owner reserves the right to sell it and its following to the highest bidder.

The contract does not directly involve Instagram, which forbids buying and selling accounts in its terms of use. (This policy hasn't stopped people from doing both at a frenzied pace.)

Generally speaking, an account with 10,000 followers can fetch anywhere between $500 and $8,000 dollars on the open market. The Overheard team said it would cost it "less than a 2007 used Honda Civic, but more than a movie ticket" to purchase @OverheardBoise and its roughly 16,700 followers.

So, why didn't it just settle for an inferior username like @OverheardBoise123? The Overheard team felt that the value of the marquee name, which matches popular accounts like @OverheardNewYork, was worth giving up ownership. As its members put it, "Why be the generic store brand when you can be the brand name?"

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  • Overheard in Boise

The group also anticipated that increased advertising profits would justify the cost of the account, but every advertising offer it has received so far has been a bad fit.

"We've maybe made $50 on the account. It's pretty laughable," the Overheard team wrote.

The position is precarious, as the group may not ever be able to afford independence. But its members downplayed any concerns about ownership and insisted that the account's status has no effect on their editorial decisions.

"We aren't out anything if we piss the name owner off and [the account] gets shut down or sold," the Overheard team wrote. "We love the account, but not enough to financially invest in it. Instagram is fleeting, like all other social medias. Remember MySpace? Yeah. We do too."

Who Said That?!

A larger question hovers above Overheard in Boise's comedy and controversy. Are the posts real?

The Overheard team maintains that all but one of the posts are legitimate. (On one occasion, it created a post "just to see what kind of response it would get"—it wouldn't say which one.)

The team also claims that 95% of the posts come from submissions, but there's no way to confirm the veracity of the hundreds of submissions the account receives each week.

It might seem unlikely that the majority of posts were truly overheard, but to assume that the submissions are fabricated begs a different question: Is Boise really that creative?

No matter the origin, the posts are a hit, and after carefully curating quotes for two years, the Overheard team knows that some themes are always winners.

"The Treefort ones are always hilarious, along with the relatable ones about Boise struggles with construction, rent, weed, and Meridian," it wrote. "As long as Boise has those problems, and we all stay verbal enough for people to overhear us, the content just creates itself."

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