Finding Yuks in a War Zone

"Daily Show" comedian files dispatches from Iraq -- the real one.


Aug. 22, 2007 — -- It may seem like an unlikely place to find comedy, Iraq. But on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" all week, comedian Rob Riggle is offering reports literally from the front lines.

Riggle, however, may be one of the few and proud comedians who could do the job, having joined the Marines after graduating from the University of Kansas in 1990.

"I could still theoretically be called back to duty," Riggle, a major and Marine reservist, said through a smile.

Riggle served as a pilot and public affairs officer in Liberia, the former Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.

He says finding comedy in the face of such tragedy wasn't as difficult as it first might seem.

"You don't have to look around to be reminded that you are in a combat zone," Riggle told ABC News. "So a little laughter goes a long, long way. It's the best escape. It's the best distraction."

Riggle first sold the Pentagon on the trip by pitching a USO tour with three comedy buddies — Horatio Sanz, Rob Hubel and Paul Scheer.

"I always said to myself as a service member that if I ever got in the position as a comedian or an entertainer, that if I could go do a USO show I would," Riggle said.

He then went to "Daily Show" anchor Jon Stewart and pitched him on bringing field producer Glenn Clements and a writer.

"I think Jon was a little nervous at first but he was like, 'Yeah, OK, let's try it,'" Riggle said.

They first flew to Kuwait City, where they performed at the Kuwait Naval Base and at Camp Arifjan. After being told that bringing all the video and sound equipment they originally had planned would limit their ability to travel in Iraq, they opted instead to bring just two digital video cameras.

"That's why the spots have the YouTube-esque video quality," said Clements.

The nine-day trip, which ended Saturday, brought the traveling comedians to Camp Buca, where detainees are held, to Forward Operating Base McKenzie, where they heard troops detonating improvised explosive devices.

They did four USO shows for troops — a fifth was canceled when they couldn't get a flight in time to Camp Anaconda — and on the fly tried to shoot as much material as possible for the "Daily Show."

"It was weird for me personally," said Riggle of his two worlds — military and comedy — colliding. "If I get around military people or I get around a military environment, I tend to turn into a military person again."

Riggle, a former cast member of "Saturday Night Live," has appeared on "The Office," "Arrested Development" and in the film "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." He says that when he puts on his Marine uniform, he conducts himself "as a Marine major should. And if I am a comedian I try to conduct myself as a comedian should."

Riggle said military officials didn't express any skepticism about "The Daily Show" reporting from Iraq, even though the show is not necessarily supportive of President Bush.

"Nobody ever said a word about that," Riggle said. "In fact, quite the opposite. They were quoting back segments they had done on the show."

Above all, Riggle said, the soldiers understand that "The Daily Show" is fake news and a comedy show.

"People think that, 'Oh, it's a war zone, and these soldiers, we can't talk to them and we can't allow them to laugh,'" Riggle said. "You don't think they could use a laugh? Yeah, they could use a big laugh, as many as they can get."

And however much audiences at home laugh at his exploits this week, Riggle says the laughs from the troops mean more to him than anything else.

"I can't even tell you how many troops came up to me after the show and said, 'This is the hardest I have laughed in a year,'" he said.

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