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Comedy With Bite: ‘The Daily Show’ Comedians Discuss USO Tour to Middle East

Friday, September 13, 2013

By Eric Brandner  

“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” has been making Americans laugh since this year’s crop of basic training grads were in diapers. So it was natural that four comedians from Comedy Central’s staple program started entertaining troops the moment they set foot downrange.

“The first [forward operating base] we flew into, I kid you not, we touched down, we got out of a helicopter, we got into a van and as the van door was closing a guy popped his head in and said ‘Hey, you want to get attacked by a dog?’” said Rory Albanese, an executive producer and longtime writer for the show.

Albanese, John Oliver – who manned the anchor desk this summer while host Jon Stewart directed a movie – and writers Elliott Kalan and Adam Lowitt went on an eight-day USO/Armed Forces Entertainment Tour last month, meeting and entertaining thousands of troops and, yes, letting military dogs practice on them for the enjoyment of others.

“The problem is it renders all gigs after this incredibly boring,” Oliver said. “People have a misconception about the military, that it’s all very down and serious. There is a deep desire to laugh there. And so anything you can do to make them laugh there, you do, whether it’s being attacked by a dog, telling jokes on stage or tasing yourself in the leg.”

It wasn’t all physical comedy. The quartet traveled to bases in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan from Aug. 16-24 preforming stage shows and getting to know the men and women they were entertaining.

“I talked to them after the show and to just hear them say ‘Hey, you know what, I just did a six-hour shift in a Conex box on security in 120-degree heat, and being able to sit down here for two hours and laugh and hang out with you guys meant so much,’” Albanese said. “And we were sitting back [and thinking] ‘You know what? It meant a lot to us, too.’”

The trip had an additional personal aspect for Oliver, whose wife – Kate Norley – deployed as an Army medic to Iraq in 2003. The couple met at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., when Oliver was on assignment for “The Daily Show” and Norley was working on behalf of Vets for Freedom.

“I’ve heard all of her stories about Iraq and what the bases were like,” he said. “America has incredible opportunity to become dislocated from its military and what they do overseas. You see so little on the news, and what you see is so often bad. It’s great to get a window into what they’re actually able to do over there.

“As comedians you’re kind of allergic to sincerity, but this really was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”

Beyond the gratitude and effusive praise they had for the troops they met downrange, Oliver and Albanese said they left the region with an unexpected feeling: optimism.

“When you’re [in America] … you sometimes think about the future generations being these sort of obese, video-game playing slackers,” Albanese said. “And then you go and meet these guys, and there’s a couple of 22-year-olds flying you around in a 50-year-old airplane refueling F-16s at 30,000 feet and you go ‘Yeah, you know what, we’re going to be OK. The future of this country is just fine.’”

“It’s strange,” Oliver said, “that you go all the way to Afghanistan to feel better about our future as well.”

See more photos on the USO's Flickr page.  

From left, "The Daily Show" comedians Elliott Kalan, Adam Lowitt, John Oliver and Rory Albanese joke around with base commander Lt. Miller during a stop in the Middle East. USO photo by Dave Gatley  

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