Why Comedians Do It…


I can’t speak for all comedians, but I think most would agree that no matter how much we love what we do, once in a while you lose sight of the intangibles that come with the territory. The perks, if you will. Sure, we get to see this country. We get to pay our bills (hopefully) by making people laugh. We get to be our own boss and provide a product that can affect people in countless ways. The people that we come in contact with for a matter of minutes can have a lasting effect on you, and you on them. A lot of comedians, myself included, met our spouses from doing comedy. Some have had children from doing comedy! (That old gag.)

One of the things we hear when we tell people we’re comedians or talk to audience members after a show is, “I could never do what you do.” People are in awe that we can just stand up in front of strangers, talk for an hour, and make them laugh (hopefully). But if you ask one of us, it’s second nature at this point. We don’t even think about it. “You just get used to it” we say. There is, however, one line of work that when I meet someone in it, I say, “I could never do that”: the armed forces. I could never do that.

I cannot tell you the level of respect I have for the people who serve in our military. I’ve always wanted to travel overseas and entertain them (hopefully) as my friends who’ve done it say it’s one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. Whenever someone from our military wants to buy a CD after my show, I always give it to them. I dream that they’ll be having a bad day out in the desert and somehow I can play a small role in helping them stay sane until they get back home. Delusions of grandeur, I know. But I also know that I am way more in awe of them, then they are of me.

I know a lot of comedians do the same thing. They donate CD’s in bulk, do shows for the USO, and generally ask for nothing in return. You see, we know that they put their lives on the line, to let us do what we do. The Freedom of Speech is the primary foundation that all comedians build their career. And if someone is willing to die, to let people like us make a living from speaking our minds, the least we can do is give them a free CD.

The reason I am saying all of this is that I received an email last week that shook me. I am still at a point in my career that when someone emails me, it makes my whole day. I’ve gotten all kinds. I had a Harvard professor tell me I reminded him of Mark Twain. Wow. I’ve had someone from Montana (who didn’t know the use of spellcheck) email me to say they didn’t care for the way I portrayed their state. But this one…this one really got to me. And, with Aubrey’s permission, I would like to share it with you:

“Hi Josh,

I saw you perform just over one year ago in Baltimore, MD, then talked with you after the show while I bought your cd and found out that you’d be in my home town of Grand Rapids, MI exactly one week later. I took my brother, Daane, a marine, to see you at that show at the BOB. We talked again after the show and I introduced you to Daane. You gave him one of your cds as a gift for his service. 

Daane and I meant to write you together at Christmas, because he told me how much he loved the cd and, when he shared it with his fellow marines in Camp Pendleton, that they loved it and listened to you all the time. We wanted to let you know the laughter that you brought to some of our men there. Well, the days ran by quickly and we were getting on planes headed in opposite directions across the country before we had time to write. 

Daane was sent to Afghanistan in early March. There, while fighting in Helmud province, he was promoted all the way to Corporal, which is the equivalent of four promotions since he ended boot camp only one year ago. Then in June, we received the horrible news that Daane was killed by an IED buried in the sand.

I think of you and your comedy often both because I am now living in Baltimore and because of the joy that you brought to him. Since I no longer have him with me to write you and thank you, I just wanted to let you know that your comedy spoke to Daane and his friends in the service. 

I hope that you are doing well and gaining even further success in your comedy. Thank you for everything,
Aubrey DeBoer”

Shook. I just sat there and reread this about five times. In the 12.5 years of doing stand-up, and all of the kind words people have shared with me, I was never shook like this. I remember this family quite well. That’s easy to do when the same people who are at a show in Baltimore, are also at a show in Michigan the very next week.

When my father passed away two years ago, I didn’t want to get right onstage. I knew there were parts of my act that mentioned him and I wasn’t sure how I would react on stage when I got to them. But I learned that while comedy had helped others get over a bad week, a divorce, or the loss of a loved one…it was my turn to be helped. Doing stand-up provided the positive energy when I needed it to get through some bad times. This letter can attest to the fact that the world needs to laugh. And while I may not be suited for being in the military, I’ll take any opportunity I can to help them along the way.

So thank you Daane. And if you’re in the military or were ever in the military, thank you too. Thank you for doing something I could never do. Thank you for letting me have the privilege of doing what I do. And please say hi if you’re ever at a show of mine so I can thank you in person. And if you’ve lost someone in the military, please know that comedians all over the country thank them for their ultimate sacrifice. I’m only sorry that it took losing someone’s life to remind me why we do what we do.

Hope to see you out there,

Josh

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