CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – We’re all passengers on an unpredictable ride. Sometimes, our lives might resemble The Funny Bus in Charlotte.
“Give it up for Andrew, our driver!” says comedian and tour guide Thomas Heynen, who’s literally rolling with the punchlines.
“Yeah, and I work on a bus; guess who my mom talks about at dinner parties!” he jokes.
During a 90-minute Queen City tour, he blares through speakers.
“You get a lot of history; you get a lot of R-rated comedy,” Heynen summarized.
“Welcome to North Cackalack!” he tells a captive audience member.
“Every person on this street needs to know we’re having a better Friday,” Heynen says to the crowd as they talk to people along the street route. “If you don’t, I swear to God, I’ll put Baby Shark on!”
Between the raucous bursts of laughter, Thomas tones down his delivery to reveal something close to his heart.
“For the past seven years… I’ve been able to teach a free sign language class here in Charlotte,” he says. “It’s called Wine ‘n’ Sign. You can drink some wine and learn some sign.”
On Tuesday nights, he puts his comedy act aside at Wine ‘n’ Sign at Tip Top Daily Market in Plaza Hills.
“No dirty signing in the back,” he quipped.
Somehow, Heynen still manages to be…
“Funny… hilarious,” he said, signing to his students.
Thomas teaches the American Sign Language workshop with the help of the Deaf community.
“Whatever the deaf person you are signing with signs, you do that sign,” he told his packed class.
“We have some deaf people there; we have some people that just want to learn,” Heynen explained.
He learned the beauty of sign language as a teen. He first signed letters to his sister Sarah, who had a speech disorder called apraxia.
On the bus tour, Heynen discusses why signing has been so important to him.
“My little sister was unable to communicate verbally until the age of five,” he said.
In high school, he met his buddy Andrew, who is deaf. Way back then, Heynen knew he and Andrew would have a special bond.
“’That’s gonna be my best friend in the world,’” he recalled, telling the story to his bus audience. “And still is to this day. He actually taught me sign language, which is why I try to pay it forward here in Charlotte.”
The Funny Bus audience applauded him.
“Thank you guys,” Heynen says.
One sign at a time, he sparks conversation.
Sydney Waltz learned about the signing workshop from Heynen as a passenger just along for the ride.
“I think it’s important because he’s kind of just introducing people to the Deaf community,” says Waltz. “I’m a first-grade teacher, so I meet and introduce kids that are hard of hearing sometimes. And I just think it’s a really valuable skill.”
Maybe “The Funny Bus” is a metaphor for life. We don’t know where the ride will take us. Every unexpected turn prepared Heynen for the next stop.
“Help the world,” Heynen said, teaching his group the sign for ‘help.’ “Help all of y’all.”
His life perspective changed when he saw the signs.
“[Sign language] is a very creative and beautiful language, and you express yourself a lot; body language, emotions, (and) expressions are very important,” Heynen told Queen City News. “And so, I think that’s helped me a lot with my comedy career.”