Entertainment

How a comedian can go from Hollywood to Kabul


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"It was like walking onto the surface of the moon," Graham Elwood says of his first experience walking off of a C-17 in Afghanistan.

His experience was not unlike many of our own first times deploying to a far-off edge of the world. We take a long, long C-17 (or god help you, C-130) ride for seemingly endless hours. There are no windows. The plane is packed. Forget about an in-flight movie or looking out the window. And when you walk off, it's invariably the middle of the night and you and the hundred or so people you're with walk off the flightline in a single file.

From there, who knows? There's a good chance the "hurry up and wait" has just begun. For civilians visiting war zones for the first time, it's no different – except they have no idea how to speak the acronym language.

"They said 'When your bird hits the LZ, find your POC, they'll take you to the MWR tent then you can go to the DFAC,'" he jokes. "It's like... what are you saying to me right now, man?"

Elwood is a Los Angeles-based comedian with appearances in comedy clubs across America, on college campuses, and even CBS' Late Late Show. He's also a veteran podcaster with shows like Comedy Film Nerds, and The Political Vigilante, and he's a co-creator of the Los Angeles Podcast Festival.

The cover of Elwood's film, "Laffghanistan: Comedy Down Range"

None of that prepared him for performing for U.S. troops deployed in combat zones. His first documentary, LaffghanistanComedy Down Range, is about his first time volunteering to go do just that. It's amazing how fast you can go from playing the Hollywood Improv to playing Bagram Air Base.

Elwood's film documents his personal journey from the sunny beaches of Southern California to the sun-baked moonscape of Afghanistan, where the military's Department of Morale, Welfare and Recreation enlisted him to entertain the troops. Elwood's psychedelic travels through a war zone are simultaneously hilarious, harrowing, and heartbreaking. His journey becomes unpredictably personal, creating a documentary that no one expected, least of all Graham.

For someone who admits he's pretty far removed from the Global War on Terror, it all came home to him when went around the small firebases of Afghanistan. It was his first time in helicopters, driving in unarmored vehicles on the ground in Afghanistan, and seeing minefields. It got real for him for him real fast.

"What was said to me and what I've said to other comedians," he says. "Well don't go over there if you don't want to be changed. It will change you. You have no idea. This is no joke."

Now that Elwood has done a number of these shows and tours around deployed military bases, he looks back at his first experience in this episode of Mandatory Fun.

Nothing could adequately prepare him for performing a comedy act in Afghanistan. All the dive bars and sh*t holes he played as a young comedian is the best thing he could do to prepare. He was still freaking out but couldn't help but put himself in the shoes of young troops.

"I'm here for two weeks," Elwood says, "and MY family is freaking out. Imagine them and  their families and how much they're freaking out."

But they quickly realized that they need to be the comics. They were there for a reason: to give American troops fighting overseas a few laughs, a taste of a normal night, and a show to help ease their tension, even if it was only for a short time.

Mandatory Fun guest: Graham Elwood has been a stand-up comic for over 20 years working comedy clubs, colleges, TV shows, Holiday Inn Lounges, war zones, dive bars, and one time on the top of a double-decker tour bus in Chicago (not joking)

. You've probably seen him on the TV as the host of the socially relevant game shows "Cram" (GSN) and "Strip Poker" (USA), along with making the world a better place by appearing on shows like "Best Bodies Ever" on VH1. Don't forget the time when he told jokes on "The Late Late Show" (CBS). He has also starred in the theatrical plays Speed the Plow, Light Sensitive, and Cash Flow, and co-wrote the one act play Brothers. Learn more about Elwood:

Mandatory Fun is hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Catch the show on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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