Produced by John Wager and Ray Reo and Bernadette Luckett
Everyone knows the cliché that laughter is the best medicine.
The Showtime documentary Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor embraces that axiom with a poignant enthusiasm.
The film, which was supported by the Wounded Warrior Project, brings together five wounded soldiers and eight comedy coaches. Together they work to craft a stand-up comedy routine.
Lewis Black, B.J. Novak, Bob Saget and Zach Galifianakis are the famous names attached to the project but the true stars are the five men and women who suffered life-altering injuries while serving their country in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bobby Henline, the sole survivor when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb, suffered burns over 38% of his body and has undergone 45 surgeries. He begins his comedy routine by slowly assessing the audience before announcing, "You should see the other guy."
Rob Jones had a double above-the-knee amputation as a result of an IED he encountered in Afghanistan. He jokes that he gets thanked a lot for being wounded.
"But I really gotta give most of the credit to the terrorist who planted the land mine," Jones deadpans. "He really did do all the work."
Darisse Smith suffers extreme pain and lower back degeneration as a result of her time in Iraq. She is the only wounded warrior whose injuries are not immediately visible.
Now pregnant, she points to her growing belly and tells the audience, "This is not my combat injury."
Steve Rice, who lost his left leg as a result of a bombing outside of Baghdad, says he was part of a "pretty aggressive study abroad program with the United States Army and Baghdad, Iraq." He pauses, lets the moment sink in and then adds, "It didn't f----- go well."
Joe Kashnow lost his right leg in a roadside bombing in Iraq. He buried his leg in a cemetery with a tombstone that reads, "1978-2005 More to Come."
"I found a way to die on an installment plan," he jokes.
Amid the hilarity, there is a stark honesty to Comedy Warriors. The veterans talk openly about their anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Smith is brutally frank about her addiction to pain killers.
By laughing at their circumstances they are taking ownership of what happened to them.
"If you take something painful and add time then you get comedy," comedy coach Bernadette Luckett explains.
Their coaches, in turn, are impressed by how comfortable the five already are on stage. For many, getting up on stage in front of audience would be terrifying, but as comedy coach Mark Brazil (That 70s Show) notes: "After, I think, you've been in Afghanistan or Iraq? No audience can scare you."
The 5 participants in Comedy Warriors are fearless.
Viewers get the chance to laugh with the five veterans, but the documentary also provides valuable and important insight to what it is like for the men and women who serve our country overseas, go into battle and return home.
"99% of America has no idea what these young men and women are going through," Al Giordano, CEO and Founding Member of Comedy Warriors says.
The best kind of television often educates while entertaining. Comedy Warriors does exactly that — and for this reason, the Television Academy Honors salutes this program.
— Amy Amatangelo, Special to TelevisionAcademy.com