Published on June 7th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson3
Punchlines on the Frontlines
The Colbert Report is in the midst of taping shows in Iraq – yes, the Iraq – which will air this Monday through Thursday of this week. (Spoiler alert: he got a buzz cut.)
Since the days of Bob Hope, it’s always a huge undertaking for American entertainers to travel – with the help of the USO (http://www.uso.org/whatwedo/entertainment/) – to a war zone. Physically and emotionally, it puts them through more than most of them have ever experienced. While we’re unlikely to get much out-of-character discussion of his experiences out of Colbert, I want to direct you to the words and images of comedians who’ve recently come before him.
I first saw Jeffrey Ross’s film Patriot Act at the Just For Laughs festival in 2005, and it blew me away. While on a USO tour in Iraq, Ross took with him a simple camcorder, documenting the adventures of himself and a slate of comics including Drew Carey, Rocky LaPorte, and Larry Gelbart. It’s simultaneously gritty and touching, and absolutely worth a watch. http://www.jeffreyrosshomemovie.com
Danny Bevins isn’t a household name, but he’s high on my list of favourite comics who also happen to be my favourite people in general. Great guy, he is. In 2007, he released Comics on Duty: We Love You Mrs. Bevins, similar in style to Patriot Act but more personal. It can be purchased on Amazon or you may luck out at the store (I got mine at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, of all places).
Former Daily Show correspondent Rob Riggle, a member of the military himself (he’s still a reservist) also went to Iraq on a USO tour in 2007. He filmed a series of bits for the Daily Show while there, but he also did many interviews about the experience, my favourite of which is here: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3509660&page=1
Louis CK recently went to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, and luckily for us he’s an incredibly prolific writer and photographer. His experiences are logged with great detail and passion on his blog. Visit the archives (http://www.louisck.net/archives.html) and scroll down to March of 2009 for the amazing multi-part account.
I’m incredibly drawn to all these stories, despite being a moderate pacifist and a non-American. The circumstances force all parties to face, head-on, the power of comedy and entertainment. It’s an emotional need, something that all entertainers should feel proud to provide no matter what the venue. Being half a world away from home seems to strip away all the toxicity of showbiz bullshit that gets heaped upon the simple act of making people laugh. All that’s left is the humanity of it, and the comedian’s experience of performing in a war zone consistently serves as a deeply stirring reminder of how important their job really is.