The lights dim, and the crowd grows silent.
A man with round glasses, jeans, loafers and a small piece of paper steps into the spotlight, and for the next 45 minutes, has them roaring with laughter. He’s Bengt Washburn, a comedian and Air Force spouse, and now a resident of U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart.
Washburn has appeared on Comedy Central and on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” He is also a winner of the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. Now, he performs free shows — geared toward adults — for the Stuttgart military community.
Washburn gets his material from everyday life, including his Mormon background.
“Growing up Mormon is no different than growing up Amish,” he told the crowd during a show May 13 in the Stuttgart United Service Organizations lounge.
Then, after a pause, “That should have been a joke, but most of you were thinking, ‘Yea, that’s about right.’”
Washburn also talked about the pains of teaching consequences to toddlers.
“Kids — they’re kinda dumb,” he said. “You’d think they’d be smarter with that really big head.”
The chuckles escalated as Washburn described how relationships change after marriage.
He recalled going on a canoe trip with his wife and another engaged couple.
While the “engaged canoe” happily navigated the water, he reenacted listening to his wife (the “navigator”) criticize his steering. He pretended to look at his paddle, then at the back of his wife’s head.
“There’s no one around,” he muttered deviously. “No way to prove anything … .”
One woman in the audience wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. “That was me and my husband a few weeks ago!” she said.
Lorena Eva, civilian, left the show still smiling. “I have not laughed like that in a long time,” she said. “It’s just funny: his mannerisms, how he looks, the tone of his voice, his imitations.”
The USO show was Washburn’s fourth free show in the community, and he plans to do more in the future. He also performs in the Mannheim and Wiesbaden military communities, as well in Berlin and Köln, and in the U.S. for several weeks each year.
He said the key to being funny is having a unique perspective on ordinary events. “Really good comedy, to me, should make you see something old in a new way,” he said.
Timing, facial expressions and body language also play a part. “We all have a sense of humor; some people just have a sense of humor that their voice and body and face can plug into,” he said.
A comedian who masters these areas can make virtually any topic funny, he added: even death. “Humor helps us to confront fears, accept them and move on,” he said.