A hearty helping of laughs

Physical feats, audience interaction leave a lasting impression

Contributing writerFebruary 1, 2013 

Usually, comedians can show off how funny they are during a phone interview. But that’s a little bit tricky for Portland’s 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. It’s 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 father’s 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. “It’s interesting for about 30 seconds, but it’s not entertaining.”

It wasn’t 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, he’s 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 Keillor’s “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 he’s juggling three balls. Now he’s 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. He’s not juggling an alligator.’”

But while he doesn’t juggle live reptiles, Bothe’s 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.”

Brad Upton and Henrik Bothe

What: This comedy night features stand-up by national headliner Brad Upton, a Las Vegas Comedy Festival winner, and juggling and more physical comedy by Henrik Bothe.

When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Royal Lounge, 311 Capitol Way N., Olympia

Tickets: $12 in advance or $15 at the door; open only to ages 21 and older

More information: baurice.com

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