"Laughter is the best medicine"

Now, the world can draw inspiration from Henline, thanks to Peter van Agtmael’s documentary, Healing Bobby, on the braveheart. Excerpts from an email interview with Ruchika Kher

How long were you in Iraq and how did you receive the burn injuries?
I was in my fourth tour to Iraq and this time I was there only for three and a half weeks, as a Staff Sergeant. On April 7, 2007, I was riding in a Humvee, running our daily supplies to different bases, when a roadside bomb hit the car. The vehicle flipped upside down and caught on fire. I was the only survivor and had burnt over 38% of my body. My head burnt to the skull.

Bobby Henline during one of his stand-up comedy acts. Pic/ AFP

How did you recuperate?
I spent six months in the hospital. It took about three years to fully recover. I’ve had 46 surgeries so far. I will need one-two more in my eyelids, since I can’t close my left eye.

What prompted you to take-up stand-up comedy?
My occupation therapist talked me into doing stand-up comedy four and a half years ago because I would always joke around with the staff and other patients. It helped me deal with the pain.

How was the response in your first couple of performances?
People were hesitant to laugh at my jokes at first. I learned that I must first address my scars and what happened to me in a funny way, to let them know it’s ok to laugh.

What is the message that you aim to give?
Laughter is the best medicine; it’s not over till it’s over.

In the documentary you said that the revenge you chose to impose on your perpetrators is by making more people laugh than the numbers they have hurt. What drives this optimism?
I inspire people. They tell me I make them look at life differently and that helps them go after what they want out of life. If I can do that through sharing my story, from just being me, then god has blessed me. I must do this for the men that didn’t live that day. The perpetrators made life worse for people, which is wrong. I will make life better for more people than they have hurt. That’s the best revenge I can get for my buddies and their families.

There is a burgeoning stand-up comic scene in India. Would you like to come to India and perform?
I would love to travel the world and share my story. We are all human and need a laugh. So, yes of course.

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Family ties
My family had a hard time for the first couple of years after the attack. They would worry daily if I would make through the next surgery. I would pray to god to take me every night because I felt like a burden on my family. It took a while to see what I was able to do. My family thinks what I do now is cool. The kids don’t get to see the effect it has on people because they are busy teenagers in their own world (laughs). I’m hoping to take them with me on one of my speaking engagements, so, they can see for themselves. My family doesn’t realise how many people are amazed by their strength and courage through all of this, including me.
— Bobby HenlineĀ 

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