By Danielle DeSimone

When she’s not touring and performing for sold-out crowds, actress and comedian Iliza Shlesinger is always looking to support those who serve and has traveled on two USO Chairman’s Tours to perform her stand-up routine in front of service members all around the world.

With 5 Netflix stand-up specials, including 2019’s “Unveiled,” Iliza can currently be seen starring opposite Mark Wahlberg in the #1 Netflix Original “Spenser Confidential” and her newly launched Netflix sketch series “The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show.”

But last week, Shlesinger added a new USO experience to her long list of support of the military by participating in a Virtual USO Entertainment Tour.

Virtual USO tours were conceived as a response to adapt USO entertainment offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic. This new and innovative way of providing top-notch entertainment to the military allowed Shlesinger to do a video Q&A chat and hour of comedy, livestreamed directly to service members deployed and stationed around the globe.

Particularly now, as thousands of U.S. military members around the world are tapped to help in the fight against COVID-19, these brief moments of entertainment from celebrities serve as a bit of respite and a reminder that even the midst of a pandemic, patriotic Americans like you are thinking of them.

A Moment of Levity

Shlesinger was just as enthusiastic about participating in a virtual USO show and answering service members’ questions in real time as she was to get on stage in Afghanistan.

“It’s always such an honor to get to go over there and see what you guys do, what you’re working on,” Shlesinger said. “Putting on a show is part of it, but really it’s letting the troops know that you’re not forgotten, we really appreciate what you’re doing. And they always thank us, but it is my honor to get to go over there and hang out with you guys. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”

Throughout her Q&A, she discussed her background in comedy, what it was like to star alongside Mark Wahlberg in the film “Spenser Confidential” and even brought her dog on camera for a special appearance. Shlesinger also explained how shooting her Netflix special “Elder Millenial” on an aircraft carrier was inspired by the arrested landing she did on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis during the 2012 USO Chairman’s Tour.

Regardless of what service members asked her, Shlesinger didn’t hold back, providing honest answers about her life that were both funny and heartwarming. She eagerly showed off the military hats, patches and challenge coins that she had collected over the course of her USO tours from various units, and said hello to the service members watching from Italy, Japan, the U.S. and all other places around the world.

Additionally, knowing that many military families cope with the challenge of staying connected during deployments, Shlesinger provided tips on how she and her husband stay close when she’s touring on the road and how the pair has dealt with social distancing thanks to COVID-19. She mentioned that they’d been sharing daily tips on Instagram on how to cook creatively with random pantry items, and are always keeping things in perspective by giving back to those in need during these uncertain times.

“Whatever you can do to lift other people’s spirits, that’s the most important thing you can do,” Shlesinger said. “Aside from, you know, being a doctor.”

Photo credit USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Iliza Shlesinger entertains sailors aboard the USS John C. Stennis during the 2012 USO Chairman’s Tour, which travels to service members all around the world throughout the holiday season.

The Importance of Giving Back

Despite being only distantly connected to the military through relatives who fought in World War II, Shlesinger has always felt a strong sense of connection to our men and women in uniform, and the need to give back to those who serve.

“What’s so cool about the USO is that it makes the military world accessible to civilians, and I had no idea!” Shlesinger said. “You know the military and you know that you support them, but when you actually get a chance to go over there and see the aircraft, the ships, the jobs that people are doing and hear from them, it makes it so clear and present, and you really get a sense of that sacrifice.”

Shlesinger explained that before touring with the USO, she had very little sense of the enormity of the military’s sacrifice and the importance of their work, but now having personally shook the hands of those serving, “it’s one of my favorite things to participate in.”

She also believes in ensuring that others have that experience as well. On one of the USO Chairman’s Tours, Shlesinger had the opportunity to bring her civilian cousin with her as a guest. She felt that it was important to introduce more civilians to the reality of what life in the military is like, in an effort to bridge the military-civilian divide.

“It’s even more important that average people see what goes on over there,” she said.

Through it all, Shlesinger emphasized why touring with the USO, or offering up her evening to do a Q&A with service members deployed all around the world, was incredibly important to her.

“My greatest honor, as an American, is getting to perform for you guys. You sacrifice so much,” Shlesinger said. “And you make us – every day – so proud to be Americans … you are not fighting alone, we are here for you, all of us here … and we are in awe of what you guys do. You guys are such heroes and your sacrifice is not for nothing.”

In these uncertain times, Shlesinger’s commitment to uplifting the spirits of our service members was an excellent way to bolster the morale of our troops.

“You are the reason why we have the freedoms that we have, and we do not take that lightly,” she said. “We think about you guys, and anything I can ever do … it is my absolute honor to do for you guys.”