The usual path of a series of films, like the Stars Wars, Fast and Furious, or Back To The Future movies, seems almost like making photocopies from previous photocopies – they tend to get weaker and more watered down with each successive version. That’s not the case with I Am Battle Comic, the third film in director Jordan Brady’s trilogy of documentaries about and around the life of being a standup comedian.
Following the initial I Am Comic and its follow-up, I Am Road Comic, this third installment reveals the travels and performance up-and-downs of a somewhat lesser-known breed of comedian, insofar as the average comedy crowd might be aware.
The performers in I Am Battle Comic are regular, real standups but ones who take time out to go into regions of conflict around the world where the United States military is stationed, to entertain the men and women of the armed services.
The comedians who Brady travels to the Middle East with include Don Barnhart, Jr., Slade Ham, Jeff Capri, and Bob Kubota. All these guys have done similar missions like this before and, similar to being part of a military unit, there’s a camaraderie amongst the group that Brady’s captured here. There’s the kind of smackdown humor that comedians use between each other when they’re off stage, but there’s also the suggestions of a line here, a tag to a joke there — artists helping each other out because they’re all in this together and it’s not, in the end, a competition.
Brady also sprinkles in interviews from other comedians who have braved the battle zones to do the troop tours as well, some as many as a dozen or more times. George Wallace, Dave Attell, George Lopez, Murray Valeriano, Shawn Halpin, and Wayne Federman (who was the focus of Brady’s I Am Road Comic movie.)
It’s not just an boys club, either, with comedians Jennifer Rawlings and Tammy Pescatelli also sharing stories about performing under what can sometimes be harrowing conditions.
Unlike its two predecessors, I Am Battle Comic comprises some amazingly deep feelings along with the laughs, both from the comedians performing and the audiences as well. The comedians are touched by the reception and response they receive from their entertainment-starved crowds on military bases in undisclosed locations scattered around the Middle East. The servicemen and women at those shows find the visits by the comics to be not just a release from the tensions of being in a combat zone, but the material provided by each performer is filled with touches, glimpses, and references to a life left back home.
This even extends to the comedians themselves. In the case of Jeff Capri, Brady captures a Skype call during their run between him and his father, Dick Capri, back home in the states. The Capris not only comprise two generations of standup comics but the elder Capri, who started performing his act in nightclubs and resorts in the 1960’s, also traveled to entertain the troops during the Viet Nam war.
Throughout I Am Battle Comic, Brady does a masterful job of capturing the emotions on both halves of the performance equation, as well as compiling an engaging and inventive film in which he not only was the director and cameraman, but also appeared on stage as part of the show. (He started out as a standup comedian himself and, although he purports to be rusty, he carries his sets off well.) “I was contractually obligated to do 15 minutes at every show,” Brady says. “They weren’t just let me be a guy with a camera.”
Due to security precautions that are part of the deal when filming in politically and militarily sensitive areas, Brady wasn’t allowed to reveal base names and specific locations within regions. We see signs outside various installations that have been intentionally blurred out by the filmmaker.
The comedians sometimes travel under cover of darkness or are flown by helicopter which increases the feeling of disorientation the performers are feeling in the unfamiliar environment. All of these elements create a level of intrigue to the movie that is unexpected in a comedy documentary.
Eschewing the usual route that often precedes finding a distributor — entering a movie into film festivals across the country — Brady took his movie to individual theaters around the U.S. He then donated the proceeds to local charities that focused on helping servicemen and women, such as the National Military Family Association, the Semper Fi Fund and Operation Gratitude.
When it came time to find distribution, Brady approached Monterey Media in Los Angeles. (“The nicest people in the world,” says Brady. “Scott and Jere Mansfield run this thing. They've been in the movie business for 30+ years and they love comedy. They took on the first film in what has become a trilogy, I Am Comic, and we did really well.”)
The film becomes officially available for download tomorrow, August 8th, online through Amazon, iTunes, Fandango Now and Vimeo On Demand. (Monterey Media has embraced the fund-raising aspect of the project and those purchasing a download of the movie through their website (https://www.montereymedia.com/iambattlecomic/) have the option to give a portion of the price donated to the National Military Family Association.)
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In addition to Marc Hershon being the host of Succotash, The Comedy Soundcast Soundcast, and author of I Hate People!, he also reviews soundcasts weekly for This Week In Comedy Podcasts on Splitsider.com