The USO is an important organization. I have a respect for artists and celebrities that I know have taken those tours. For example, I have no idea why anyone would want to meet Dean Cain – he’s shorter than I expected – but I respect that he decided to come to where I served in Iraq. Louis C.K., Comedian and star of his own FX Show, toured Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait in 2008 performing his stand-up for the troops. He traveled with a number of artists, two of which were cheerleader Lilly Robbins and, former US Army Ranger cum Country Musician, Keni Thomas.
C.K.’s brand of comedy is something like if Carlin had kids or Cosby without his aversion for the explicit. In his latest stand-up special (www.louisck.com) (which he is selling for only $5 on his website – something that hasn’t been done in comedy before) Live from the Beacon Theatre, C.K. opens with a bit about wanting to be a better person. He admits that he flies first class and never once thinks of helping the struggling passengers who board the plane after him. He describes coach and then points out that he always sees soldiers flying in coach. He then pays off the joke, the heart of which says that soldiers are professional and courteous and deserve his seat more than him. His take on doing “something nice” for soldiers is a commentary on how disaffected the average American of privilege is to the plight of the soldier…in coach. C.K. admittedly opposes the war, but supports the troops.
Throughout his USO tour, C.K. filmed videos that he released on his Youtube channel a year later. This tour proved to be the inspiration for an hour-long, double-budget episode of his FX series. The episode, titled “Duckling,” is dedicated to the memory of Tim Hetherington who was killed in Libya. Hetherington and Sebastian Junger consulted on the project, sought out by C.K. after he saw their documentary Restrepo. The eponymous ducking drives the show, it was slipped into C.K.’s bag by his daughter to keep him “safe.” It is the engine of the heartfelt ending that is simultaneously absurd and moving.
What is interesting that some of the scenes from the USO blog were featured in the episode. Thomas and C.K. go to a small FOB in Afghanistan and perform for a small number of soldiers. Thomas performs a song – meant more for the audience at home than the audience of actors – he wrote called “Circle on the Cross,” about the Vietnam Wall and MIA soldiers. C.K. begins his act and puts down a soldier’s hometown. This also happened. In an interview on Sirius Radio, C.K. said that a similar exchange happened. He realized that a soldier’s hometown represented “America” to them, the town he is making fun of is where that soldier is headed after here. It is the best case scenario, so naturally, they would be protective of it. At the same small FOB, the nationals on base begin an impromptu soccer game, that is taken directly from one of the USO Videos. Also, one wonders if the inspiration for this base didn’t come from his visit to FOB Normandy where the set-up was unnerving and the conditions not great. C.K. strives to find humor in truth, and he does. And not once does he do it at the expense of anyone but himself.
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