by Ryan Meehan
Bengt Washburn was born in Salt Lake City, Utah but grew up in a large Utah town (1,200 people) as the fifth child in a small Mormon family (7 children). Bengt is married to an officer in the United States Air Force. They have lived in 6 different cities over the last eleven years. Most recently he moved to Springfield, Virginia (Washington D.C.) after living in Stuttgart, Germany for 3 years. Bengt is a former winner of the prestigious San Francisco International Comedy Competition. He has been seen on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Live at Gotham on Comedy Central and most recently Conan on TBS. He was invited to perform at the Vancouver International Comedy Festival, The Boston Comedy Festival, the Aspen Laff Festival and Gilda’s Laugh Fest in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s been heard on NPR, PRI and Bob and Tom. All three of his comedy CDs can be heard playing on XM Sirius radio. Most people who know him would say Bengt is a logistically impaired ditz, but his comedy is described as intelligent, surprisingly universal considering the content matter and profoundly funny. We just so happen to have him our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: You’ve got kind of an interesting look – sort of a Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys meets Woody Allen type of thing going on – As a youngster, was your upbringing comparable to that of a typical Mormon lifestyle? What was it that made you want to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
BW: I was raised in a small town in Central Utah. Mapleton. It was about 15 miles south of Provo, UT. My parents went to BYU. Most of the town was Mormon. I served an LDS mission. I was typical in some ways but my family wasn’t conventional. My mom was a little eccentric and my Dad was a psychiatrist- a strange profession to many people in central Utah at the time. We were a weird family living inside of what many consider to be a weird culture. I was an outsider, in an outsider culture I would say.
I always wanted to be a comedian. But I didn’t think showbiz and comedy were compatible with Mormonism. I loved the attention I got with being funny. And as an introvert I enjoyed how the stage allowed me to open up to people. I really think I started doing comedy for attention and approval and out of loneliness in a way.
RM: You currently live in the DC area, but how did you discover that you and your wife were going to be relocating to Germany? What was your initial reaction when you found out? What is the world of standup comedy like over there; and what’s the biggest difference between the way Europeans perceive humor and the way we respond to it here in the States?
BW: My wife warned me that we might be going to Germany. At the time we were in Monterrey, CA. Beautiful place. I was happy to go but also knew it was going to put some pressure on my “career”- I don’t really think I have a career. I’ve never really looked at what I do as a career. I just spent a decade trying to avoid work- then woke up one day and realized I had been working my butt of trying to avoid work- I just hadn’t noticed because the work was so fun.
RM: What are some of the benefits of seeing comedy in a festival setting? Why do you think that format has become so popular as of late; and conversely what are some of the drawbacks of seeing the art form with a larger audience as opposed a club setting? (Other than the intimacy level of course…)
BW: I don’t think there is any benefit to seeing comedy at a festival. I do think festivals are great for making communities aware if standup as an art form. It is an art form. As far as TV goes. I don’t think it belongs on TV. It’s live performance. It’s best to see it in as intimate setting as possible. TV isn’t intimate. That being said. I am glad we get it on Television some so people remember it’s there. I think enough people are familiar with it now so they don’t judge it too harshly when they see it in TV and it doesn’t really work.
RM: Which of the two experiences was more of a pressure cooker for you: Being in the finals of one of the biggest comedy competitions in the world (San Francisco) or appearing on a late night talk show hosted by an individual who has had such an extensive history of writing for a variety of television programs? (Conan O’Brien) Is something like pressure even an issue for someone who has reached the level of experience that you have when it comes to spending time on stage?
BW: Conan was the scariest because I’m old. When you’re young you always think “There’s always next time.” You have this ignorant bliss of death and crushing failure when you’re young.
RM: For someone who has lived in so many different areas, how often would you say that you write bits for your stand-up act that are focused on describing a certain geographical region? Out of all the material you have, which topic seems to be the most versatile in the sense that you can use it when speaking to all kinds of audiences?
BW: I write about where I live but not about towns on the road- not too much anyway. The topic that is most versatile is my life at that particular moment.
RM: What is the biggest mistake that you tend to see younger comics make? Why is it that you think that is so common; and what can be done to avoid it?
BW: Be yourself, it’s hard but you must learn to be yourself and make the most of yourself. Don’t listen too much to the back of the room. It’s full of comics who are trying to be someone else. Authenticity is what you are after.
RM: When you look at your career ten years down the road, what are some of the things that you’d like to be able to say you’ve accomplished at that point? Are you pretty confident that you will reach the long-term career goals that you’ve currently set for yourself?
BW: Right now I’m hoping to just stay honest and current with my material. I hope I’m the kind of show in ten years that people enjoy watching, because I am obviously enjoying myself.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BW: I have a new DVD that will be released soon. And I’ll record a new CD in September. Just a recording of me talking. Definitely not big- but hopefully very funny and entertaining. I know I’m enjoying writing it. And I look forward to sharing it with audiences as I build it.
Official Website: http://www.getbengt.com/
Bengt on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bengt.washburn
Bengt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bengtwashburn
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest user generated content.