Usually, comedians can show off how funny they are during a phone interview. But thats a little bit tricky for Portlands Henrik Bothe, who will perform Saturday in Olympia with Brad Upton, a nationally known comic and past winner of the Las Vegas Comedy Festival.
Bothe (pronounced boat-uh) is as much circus performer as comedian. He juggles; he rides a unicycle; he performs such feats as escaping from a straitjacket while riding a unicycle.
But the key to his act is not in what he does, he said. Its in how he does it with humor.
Bothe grew up in Denmark, and he was always good at mastering physical skills, beginning at the age of 3 when he managed to drive his fathers car into the ocean.
My dad had to swim out and get me out of the window, Bothe said. Then he swam out with a rope and tied it to the car and pulled it in.
The car (a Volkswagen Beetle) survived, and Bothe learned to channel his gifts into learning to juggle, ride the unicycle and other physical feats. But those were just hobbies.
Watching somebody juggle is about as interesting as watching somebody on the parallel bars at the Olympics, he said. Its interesting for about 30 seconds, but its not entertaining.
It wasnt until he saw New Orleans on his first trip to the United States that Bothe found his calling.
I saw some amazing street performers who were just so funny, and it dawned on me that that was the way I liked it, he said. The physical skill is just the skeleton you hang your character and your comedy on.
A big part of that comedy is laughing at himself, Bothe said. The show features a lot of audience interaction, but even when he gently pokes fun at someone else, he said, hes really the butt of the joke.
Because humor is the most important part of his act, Bothe can proudly declare himself one of the few jugglers to have been featured on a national radio show, Garrison Keillors A Prairie Home Companion. The show was taped before a live audience at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle, where Bothe lived for a while before moving to Hawaii and then to Portland.
The audience would react, and (Keillor) would then narrate what I was doing, Bothe said. Now hes juggling three balls. Now hes juggling seven balls. And here comes the rubber chicken and the kitchen sink. He would just make stuff up. I think it was when the alligator got thrown into the mix that people listening were like, Wait a minute. Hes not juggling an alligator.
But while he doesnt juggle live reptiles, Bothes act is enough to make a lasting impression, said Baurice Nelson, who is producing the show in Olympia.
Nelson first saw Bothe in action about 15 years ago at the Tyee Hotel in Tumwater.
I just found his physical comedy to be so energetic and different from standard stand-up, Nelson said. It was extremely entertaining. I knew I wanted to see him again.