Chris Provost asks the audience in the Salt Palace Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom if anyone is attending the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention for the first time, and a fair number of people raise their hands.

Those people don’t know that the muffler joke is coming. But Provost always tells it at the start of the convention.

Provost explains that he’s supposed to show a lot of energy as emcee — but the night before, he had a weird dream. “I dreamt I was a muffler in a car, and I woke up exhausted.”

The audience groans, as Provost expected.

“I promise you right now, the jokes do not get any better than that,” he tells the audience, and many in the crowd give a laugh that suggests prior experience with the emcee’s jokes. “I don’t know if I’m happy that you’ll be agreeing with me,” he adds.

Provost, a 46-year-old Utah native and Brigham Young University alum, is the public voice and face of FanX — the guy who knows all the dumb jokes, who keeps the show moving and the crowd’s energy up, exhausted or not, in the room where the convention’s biggest stars take the stage.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Provost emcees during the start of FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018.

“He embraces the dad-joke thing,” said Jimmy Martin, entertainment reporter for KSL and a regular on Geek Show Podcast. “The audience loves and hates him at the same time. They love him, but they hate the jokes.”

Provost has been an emcee since the original Salt Lake Comic Con in 2013, though back then he played it straight. He also was one of four rotating emcees, though over time, he said in an interview Thursday, the other three were more comfortable as moderators than as hosts.

He cemented his reputation that first year when Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee was 20 minutes late for his panel. Provost had to stall for time, and he tried the muffler joke. The response was dead silence.

“There was like one lady in the back of the ballroom, and she yelled, ‘A for effort!’” Provost recalled.

Since then, he has collected tons of bad puns and uses them between the celebrity appearances in the Grand Ballroom.

“I like very vanilla, family-friendly puns — the worst of the worst,” he said. “My favorite is when you get that low groan, that deep sigh. I love that.

“People will come up to me all the time, and they’ll do that shifty-eyed look — they look around to see if anybody is looking — and they whisper, ‘I like your jokes, but don’t tell anybody.’”

He spends about two months before the convention preparing material, trying out jokes in the mirror.

“I’m trying to practice on my facial reactions,” he said. “I try to make it big and over-the-top. Really wide arm gestures, really open mouth, really wide-eyed. Almost like a human Muppet, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

When he’s not performing at FanX, Provost has a day job training salespeople for a leasing company. He also does the occasional acting gig — he was in the indie comedy “Brigsby Bear,” where he got to meet “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill on the set — and he and his wife, Amanda, recently started a YouTube channel, Provost Park Pass, highlighting elements of the Disney theme parks. The Provosts have a 2-year-old son, Miles.

One of Provost’s biggest jobs as FanX emcee isn’t seen by the fans. He talks to the celebrities backstage, preparing them to face the crowds.

“You see these larger-than-life celebrities, and a lot of them are nervous,” Provost said. “I think it’s because it’s their first live experience before 5,000 people. … The majority of the celebrities that come to FanX are so kind, and I think that has a lot to do with the fans. They are so kind to the celebrities when they’re here, that the celebrities are on cloud nine.”

Sometimes, the dad jokes even work on celebrities. When British actor Jason Isaacs, best known for playing the evil Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” films, came to the convention one year, he told Provost that he’s heard every “Harry Potter” joke and defied Provost to tell one that would make him laugh.

Provost went onstage and told his joke about how he “watched every ‘Harry Potter’ movie back-to-back with my wife. Luckily, I was the one facing the TV set.” Isaacs started laughing and told Provost, “That’s the first time I ever laughed at a ‘Harry Potter’ joke.”

Before Thursday’s first panel, Provost goes through the Q&A rules — no personal stories or requests, no offensive questions — and introduces the sign-language interpreters “who heckle me more than anyone else.” He shows off his socks, orange with pictures of tacos on them.

The biggest laugh he gets is when he utters the words “comic convention” — drawing out the words deliberately. The audience cheers knowingly, understanding the veiled reference to FanX’s loss in a trademark-infringement lawsuit to the larger San Diego Comic-Con.

“I can tell this is going to be a good con, guys,” he answers.