Bobby Henline walks out and faces you, his hairless head misshapen by flames that burned down to his skull, continued over 38 percent of his body and required 46 surgeries to patch. His ears are nubs, or nonexistent. His eyes are distorted. His left hand is gone.
He is silent for a long, awkward moment, then leans toward you, and whispers into a microphone: “You should see the other guy …"
Yes, you can laugh.
Henline is a former Army truck driver who was a passenger in a Humvee that rolled over an explosive device along a river outside Baghdad in 2007 on his fourth tour of duty. The blast threw the truck 20 meters through the air, leaving Henline and four comrades in a ball of flame. Only Henline survived.
But the Desert Storm veteran and father of four, who settled near the military hospitals in San Antonio on his return, is also a standup comedian who uses humor to inspire others in similar circumstances. Based on a riff from his act (“We’re in a restaurant and my wife orders a steak, and I tell the waiter, ‘She wants it well-done. Like her man.’ "), Henline bills himself as “The Well-Done Comedian.”
This weekend, Henline will join four other injured service members at the Palm Beach International Film Festival for world-premiere screenings of the documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.” The film follows the four men and a woman as they attempt to use standup comedy to help the healing process, with mentoring from comics such as Bob Saget, Lewis Black, B.J. Novak and Zach Galifianakis.
The screenings, which include an audience Q&A with the five, plus director-producer John Wager and co-producer Bernadette Luckett, are at 2 p.m. Friday at the Frank Theatres CineBowl and Grille (14775 Lyons Road, Delray Beach) and 6 p.m. Sunday at Muvico Parisian 20 at CityPlace (545 Hibiscus St., West Palm Beach). Tickets: $10, $8 for military, seniors and students.
The group also will be honored at the festival’s Silver Screen Splash party at 9 p.m. Saturday at Deck 84 (840 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach). Tickets: $50 (includes two cocktails and light bites from the menu). Info: PBIFilmFest.org.
Henline, a Navy brat who joined the Army at 17, always had a sense of humor growing up (in the San Francisco Bay area), and jokes with his intensive-care-unit nurses were one of the first indications that he would survive his injuries.
When he was headed to Los Angeles for further treatment, a therapist he’d charmed while learning to use a prosthetic hand made him promise to look up her sister, who might connect him to a comedy club. (“She made me pinky swear, so I had to” Henline says.) A few weeks later, less than two years after he was wounded, Henline was onstage at an open-mic night at the Comedy Store.
Comedy isn’t paying the bills, but his military retirement allows him to keep at it. He also makes motivational-speaking appearances. Money, however, isn’t why he’s onstage.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m deformed, but I can’t just sit there. I have to make a difference,’ " Henline, 41, recalls. “To me, that’s the best revenge I can get for those guys [in the truck].”