Every year in September, volunteers climb 2,071 steps to represent the 110 floors of the Twin Towers. This "9/11 Tower Challenge," which takes place in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff, has raised more than $188,000 to charities serving law enforcement, first responders, military personnel and their families.
However, the Tucson location quickly reached capacity, leaving many who wanted to participate without an opportunity to do so. But the Fox Theatre’s “9/11 Tower Challenge Vaudeville Show” seeks to fill that gap, offering an evening of music and comedy, with all proceeds benefiting the 9/11 Tower Challenge Foundation.
Headlining the event is Iraq War veteran Bobby Henline, a man who used blunt humor to deal with some of the most extreme situations imaginable. Suffering from PTSD and burns on roughly 40 percent of his body, Henline also calls himself the “Well Done Comedian.” Henline was inspired to re-enlist in the military after the events of Sept. 11.
“These events are definitely extra special for me because of 9/11,” Henline said. “First responders are just now getting credit for what they do. It’s important to remember their work along with veterans’.”
Henline’s comedy career began during the healing process after an IED hit his Humvee in Iraq. Henline’s occupational therapist talked him into trying stand-up comedy after seeing how he used positivity and humor in the hospital.
“There’s definitely a time when I can run out of material, especially when talking about the burns,” Henline said. “I don’t plan on doing this forever, but I definitely always want to help people. Because if I’m not helping others, how can I help myself?”
He often makes jokes relating to his healing process and burns, and has even dressed as zombies and Freddie Krueger for Halloween. Henline said he’s now more confident than ever speaking in front of people. This confidence even inspired him to pursue a career in motivational speaking as well. He helps both veterans and civilians struggling with negative thoughts by showing them outlets he uses to to cope, including weight training, music, writing and even blacksmithing.
“You don’t have to be in a war, everyone who’s had trauma is going to have those negative thoughts,” Henline said. “That’s where outlets help out, to turn negativity into something positive... We don’t know what we can get through until we do it.”
In the more than decade since starting his comedy career, Henline was surprised to see his motivational speaking take off quicker than his stand-up. Now, he combines the two, often telling the audience the more serious story of how he was injured before leading into jokes.
“Motivational speaking is taking off more for me, and I think it’s because it’s more accepted,” Henline said. “Once I let the audience know who I am, then they’re more comfortable laughing with me.”
Henline plans to share this mixture of storytelling and comedy at the 9/11 Tower Challenge Vaudeville Show, showing that “If I can do it, you can do it.”
“If something is the worst thing you’ve been through in your life, then it can be just as bad as what I’ve been through,” Henline said. “It’s the mental battle that’s the toughest, that’s where we have to make a choice.”
Performing alongside Henline will be The Manhattan Dolls, a trio of singers who perform vintage, swing-style music for military and special events all over the world. Rowdy Johnson will also perform, a Navy veteran who sings outlaw country.
The 9/11 Tower Challenge Vaudeville Show starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the Fox Tucson Theatre. $20 or two tickets for $35. All proceeds benefit the 9/11 Tower Challenge Foundation. Visit foxtucson.com for more information.