Joe Kashnow served in Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division from April to September 2003. He was wounded by a roadside bomb, and ultimately had to have his right leg amputated below the knee.
Not exactly the stuff of comedy, but for Kashnow, laughing helped him deal with reality, and it’s what led him into stand-up.
“I fell into comedy in the strangest way possible – I was blown up in Iraq, and isn’t that a funny story?” he said. “It helped me ... first, making jokes when I was first injured just helped me deal with processing the fact that I’ve just been severely injured in some way. And continuing to make jokes through the limb salvage attempt and the subsequent amputation and all that was how I stayed sane, really. And I often said, ‘I could laugh about it or I could cry about it, but neither one is really going to make it any better. At least if I laugh, I’ll have a good time.’”
Kashnow, along with fellow veteran Bobby Henline, who is a veteran of Desert Storm, and “Family Ties” alumnus Marc Price, will be performing their comedy as “Skippy and the Comedy Warriors,” Oct. 12 at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
The show is a continuation of the documentary, “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor,” which paired veterans with an interest in stand-up with celebrity comedians and writers. The vets were mentored and trained, and ultimately took their acts to the stage.
“I was lucky enough to be selected for this documentary, which gave me the push I needed to actually get out and try stand-up on my own for the first time,” Kashnow said, adding that before he met his mentor and writers, the producers wanted him to write his own material and perform it to see where he was.
“I somehow scrambled out about 7½ minutes’ worth of fairly decent jokes about being injured and recovering through the military medical system,” he said. “I decided the first time I was going to go on stage was not going to be in front of the cameras; I was going to go screw up royally at the very least in a place where only my dearest family and friends would remember it forever where it at least wouldn’t be on film. So I went to a local comedy club at their open mic and I wound up winning the contest that evening.”
He said he attributes a lot of his win that night to two things: The fact that he’s actually really funny and that his routine was different from what the audience had been seeing from the other comedians.
“It was funny, and it was definitely different, you know, one foot in the grave kind of stuff,” he said.
Along with his darker sense of humor, Kashnow said there’s nothing off-limits when it comes to his material – sort of.
“For me, the limit is whether or not you can make it funny. For instance, I don’t talk about politics on stage because I’m legitimately angry and I haven’t figured out a way how to actually make it funny,” he said. “But there’s nothing that’s inappropriate, I don’t think, to joke about.”
Price, best known as Skippy from the TV series “Family Ties,” got involved with the show through his close friend, Bernadette Luckett, who produced the “Comedy Warriors” film and brought it to his attention. Now on tour with the men, Price, who wasn’t in the film, said he has picked up where it left off, showing them the ropes of what it takes to be a professional stand-up comedian.
“These guys were already funny. I don’t know that you could just take anyone and turn them into a stand-up comedian. They were chosen because they had a good sense of humor. They were mentored intensively. ... They have these A-list stars who work with them around the clock. Intensive training. And they became stand-up comedians. And they’re the funniest ones beyond the movie,” he said. “Basically what I’ve done is, they’ve trained them to be stand-up comedians, and now I’m helping showcase how it works in terms of setting up the tours because there’s a whole process involved, it doesn’t just stop with being able to get on stage: You have to book yourself, you have to set up the tour and go out and do it. And so I’ve taken them under my wing, and we’re going out all over the country.”
Price said that much like the way soldiers form a special bond, so too have the three of them working together on tour.
“Comedians build up a brotherhood, too, very different, very much more an easier brotherhood to be a part of, but nonetheless, we have a brotherhood, too, and so it’s kind of cool to share; it’s like they’re letting me in with them, they’re a part of the comedy brotherhood now, and that’s just a great feeling,” he said. “They’re really funny comedians, so this is going to be a great show. And we get to celebrate our heroes and get a lot of laughter out of it at the same time.”
For Kashnow, the shows are just as important to him as to the audience.
“It’s very important for me because, you know, it’s how I get paid,” he said, laughing. “It’s wonderful for me, I served in the Army for 6½ years and I worked in federal law enforcement for another seven years, and now I do stand-up, and I sell laughter and happiness, which in one word is ‘haphter.’ That’s an incredible opportunity, and it’s a gift that I’m allowed to do that and people are entertained by that, I think it’s amazing.”