It’s Always Funny was very excited to interview the enormously funny Bengt Washburn this week. Bengt is one of our favorite touring comics around and we were stoked when he agreed to talk with us. Bengt has toured all over the United States and even has done some international shows. Earlier this year he “killed it” on Conan on TBS.
Bengt talks about how to beat a general at Risk, what being on Conan is all about and some deeds on his upcoming DVD recording.
If you have never have been to a Bengt show, it is something that you don’t want to miss. He’ll be at the West Valley Wiseguys this weekend. I would suggest bringing another pair of underwear though. I am pretty sure you will pee your pants from laughter or a weak bladder. I don’t know your personal problems.
Describe yourself in 10 words or less?
Skinny, middle-aged, introspective caucasian, and a self-doubting, ditzy, opinionated, reluctantly rebellious slob – who often goes over time and uses more words than allotted.
Having lived in Germany, do you own a pair of lederhosen and what would it take you to wear them during a set?
I do not own Lederhosen. I wish I did but they are expensive and not very flattering on my emaciated legs.
If you could challenge one of the great generals in America’s history to a game of Risk, who would it be and what strategy would you use to defeat them?
I would challenge Ullissys S Grant. I would start by misspelling his name just to tick him off, then I would get him really drunk. I would also make up the rules as I went along.
What pushed you to do comedy as a career?
As a child I made people laugh as a way to get attention I suppose. I needed more hugs as a child. I used to walk around the house with a joke book. I would assault any visitor that came to the house with the jokes from that stupid book. When I got older and started doing comedy as a hobby I discovered that my natural thought process was an advantage in comedy. In the regular work world my thought process would get me demoted at worst and fired at best.
Where did you start your comedy career?
I started my comedy career in Utah. The first club I performed at was Johnny B’s in Provo, Utah and a little room in the bar in the Marriott in downtown SLC called the Comedy Oasis managed by Bill Bronner. Then Laffs (now Wiseguys) came to town in 1996 I believe. That was my first real home club. Laffs which is now Wiseguys.
Who were the comedians that inspired you to do stand up comedy?
On television we watched Carol Burnett. I loved that show. Carol, Tim, Harvey, Vickie…they were great. And Woody Allen. I read some of his essays in High School. Amazing stuff. Then I heard about Bill Cosby. We listened to my neighbor’s album. It was great. Also Richard Pryor and George Carlin (we certainly weren’t allowed to listen to their comedy) but I saw snippets of them on TV somehow. The first comedian I really listened to was Steve Martin. The family got ‘Wild and Crazy Guy’ and ‘Lets Get Small’ for Christmas because my parents thought he was ‘clean’, but when they listened to the albums, the albums quickly disappeared.
When did you start doing stand up comedy?
The first time I performed was for a high school assembly my Junior year. I wrote a couple bits for a character that I used to do. I used to develop all sorts of characters complete with physical and vocal mannerisms and strange accents. I would practice in the mirror for hours. Sad. I did my little skit and it went really well. I ‘killed’. The next performance was for our “High School Senior Breakfast” – it was horrible.
Who has been the biggest help for you in your comedy career?
Hands down – my wife. Then my parents and my brothers and sisters. Then a small handful of club owners, (including Wiseguys) and a lot of wonderful comedians/mentors. Then people who come to the shows over the years. A lot of people…and one scotty dog.
What was it like being roommates with Keith Stubbs?
We were both constantly doing comedy back then. I was on the road so much. The best part was that he was the landlord and would allow me to pay my rent with paintings, that and the late night karaoke…so much fun. Great memories.
It is as good as it gets. The crowds are wonderful and the comic roster is excellent. It’s an honor to be included in such a great line up of comics. Not just the famous ones who come through town but the top tier comics that people in the industry all know are fantastic, even if they aren’t household names.
What is the process of trying to get on the Conan show?
Years of work. Writing and rewriting. Dumping bits that don’t work or are cheap. Ignoring the adulation of some of the drunker road crowds or the comics in the back of the room, they can poison your process really fast. Learning to listen to the response of the better audiences. All that over a period of time and lots of luck – in my case lots and lots of luck. Mostly luck.
How did you prepare to go on a show of that magnitude?
Do the set over and over, under all sorts of conditions. Write material with a structure and cadence that can kind of clue the audience into where they are supposed to laugh, because they are going to be a little nervous and distracted. They are a studio audience, not a comedy club audience. So if you don’t go in prepared to NOT panic, and ready to ‘tell’ them, almost to insist on them laughing, it can go south…it still might.
Who has the better crowd… Conan or Craig Ferguson? Why?
I will never know because I didn’t ‘approach the two sets the same and I didn’t quite know what I was doing with the Ferguson set. I botched it a bit. My timing got thrown. I panicked about my time.
What was it like to meet to Conan O’ Brian?
He is tall. I was so psyched about being on his show, and having survived the set, that I was kind of out of it. But he is very nice and tall.
What advice would you give to someone who has the goal to get on the talk show circuit?
Work hard. Work as clean as you can while still being true to yourself. It might be that who you are isn’t right for late night TV stand up….be ready for that possibility.
What are some of the favorite places you have got to tour? United States and Internationally?
Ten days in Iraq with Scott Kennedy (RIP). Berlin and Koln were so fun. I love all of the cities I play in. I really do love the cities where I get to play. Maybe that’s part of why I get to play in those cities.
What is your home comedy scene? What is it like there?
I kind of don’t have a home scene because with my wife’s military career I’ve moved all over. I have multiple scenes. Some of them I’ve never ‘lived’ in like Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin – definitely fell like home to me. My ‘home’ scene now is Washington DC- there are so many fantastic comics here. But ultimately my home scene is SLC, Utah. Its where I was born and raised, as a human and a comic.
You lived in Germany for several years, what is it like to perform stand up comedy there as an American?
Different. My comedy is mostly just words. And they use different words. Pop references don’t’ work – which didn’t harm me that much – I don’t talk about pop culture much. You have to slow down your delivery. There is a whole different tempo and timing that you have to find.
What was one joke that you have told that has stood out the most during you career?
I have a bit about canoeing that has gotten a lot of play time. I haven’t been doing it as much lately – I don’t really just tell jokes. I have longer bits etc. and the one that stands out is the one I am working on that is about what I am thinking and feeling today.
Jackie Kashian said on The Nerdist podcast that you just recorded your comedy DVD at ACME in Minneapolis. When can we anticipate its release and what new can we look forward to on that?
Jackie is so cool. Its still in editing. But its REALLY close. I assume this December. Just a few weeks. But possibly January. I’m excited about how it looks and how it turned out. I have some very raw material on there. I think people will get a glimpse of me working material out – something that they usually don’t see in a taped performance. They will also get the sense of the club – ACME – a great comedy club, arguably the best there is. I like that its not a theater event – Its not a hyped up media event or a coming out party for a ‘rising star’. Its a middle aged comic, with no chance in hell of getting a sitcom, doing his craft. Its a comic at a comedy club, being a comedian. Being funny about his stupid and wonderful life. Hopefully people can relate.
What does the Salt Lake Comedy Scene have that other scenes don’t?
Lots of good stage time in actual comedy clubs.
What things are we doing right? Where can we improve?
People write jokes. There is a pressure to work clean. Which can backfire but is usually a good idea especially when you are starting out.
Where can we improve?
It would be nice if there were venues where younger comics who are sincerely a little too edgy and dark could work and develop before they move to a different scene. So many young comics who work edgy and dark don’t know what they are doing or perhaps, more importantly, don’t know WHY they are doing it. You have to figure both of those things out. In order to do that they will probably have to move to a different scene. The audiences to learn that just aren’t big enough in Utah. After they learn how to do it they can come back. Learning HOW to do that probably needs to happen out on the road. That’s true of most scenes though, not just Utah.
I will update my calendar on my website this week. its a little behind.
I have the shows this weekend in SLC/West Valley.
After that private parties, then South Carolina at Myrtle Beach, then Calgary Canada, Indianapolis, North and South Dakota, Austin, Texas and more!
How can people connect with you?
Couple things I want to plug-
I’m going to record the shows at Wiseguys this weekend and then people who come to the show can purchase a download code for $5. Go to getbengt.com and download a “Best of the Wiseguys Weekend” limited Comedy MP3 at my website. I will be selling the code you need to download the comedy MP3 this weekend after the shows for $5.
ALSO-I’ve been saying this for two years but its finally happening for real- my final edit list for ‘Bengt Over in Europe’ went in yesterday. So that Comedy CD should be available in January as well as my DVD “Hole Person”.