View Full Version : Comic Keeps Troops Laughing

11-01-06, 07:59 AM
Posted on Wed, Nov. 01, 2006


Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Tom Irwin is fighting the war in Iraq one joke at a time.

Irwin is a comedian on a twofold mission: Keep the troops laughing while keeping the folks back home aware soldiers in distant places with names such as Mosul, Fallujah and Kirkut, don't have much to laugh about.

The Los Angeles comic first headed to Iraq nearly three years ago as part of a traveling comedy show.

''When I do shows for Marines, I always tell them that I was in the Army because they always boo me,'' he says, chuckling. ''Telling a group of Marines you were in the Army is like telling them you have a flair for interior design.''

The 39-year-old entertainer is a member of an underground army of its own -- the hundreds of working comics who make their living headlining venues from Los Angeles to New York, Atlanta to Detroit.

You might not have seen him on ''The Tonight Show'' or ''The Late Show,'' but you well may have caught his act at a club in Buffalo, N.Y., or a lounge somewhere in Ohio.

The men and women of the military have seen him all over Iraq. Like a soldier who can't bring himself to stay home while his comrades are under fire, Irwin has been back three times since his first visit in 2004 and is angling for a fifth trek early next year.

''I'm worried for you guys,'' he tells the soldiers somberly during his act, then adds brightly that their war's hipness quotient is lacking. Vietnam War movies, he explains, always contain a scene set to psychedelic music that shows soldiers ''wearing bandanas, smoking drugs, listening to Hendrix, all trippy and stuff.''

''What the hell is your movie going to be about? They're going to cut to the musical montage and they'll be two guys playing pingpong to a Hilary Duff song.''

That's one of the lighter moments in his military act, much of the rest of which is filled with dark humor about military life, including observations about latrine duty, barracks sexual escapades, military rivalries and of course, military food.

Irwin has put together a one-man show, ''25 Days in Iraq,'' that chronicles his first visit and describes the many people he met there. It's just been released on DVD.

''My goal is just to make sure that those people don't get forgotten,'' he said, safely ensconced for the moment on the patio of his favorite coffee shop on a fashionably funky Los Angeles street crammed with boutiques and semi-chic clothing stores.

''We can't forget the people that we send off to war,'' he says, his voice soft but the gaze from his piercing blue eyes intense.

In Iraq, he tries to coax laughter out of people living under some of the most dangerous conditions in the world.

Irwin and his fellow journeymen comedians don't play the really big bases in the safer areas and don't get paid much, says Rich Davis, founder of the Michigan-based Comics on Duty, which books their shows. His stable of 75 or so comics don't need to, Davis adds -- big-name entertainers get to those.