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Comedian brings weapon of laughter to war zones
Running to a helicopter while being shot at is tricky.
It’s even trickier when one of the kids calls at that very moment and tells you somebody ate all the Cheez-Its, and please remember to buy more.
This is one of the stories comedian Jennifer Rawlings tells in her show “I Only Smoke in Warzones, A Collection of True Stories from the Battlefield (Both at Home and Abroad).”
Rawlings comes to Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley with her show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18.
“I love to make people laugh and when I think about soldiers, my feeling is that these young men and women leave their homes and families for year-long deployments and risk their lives every single day,” Rawlings said.
“I can leave my family for a couple of weeks at a time to go tell jokes.”
Indeed, the Los Angeles mother of five has been traveling as a USO performer for about 11 years. She has performed in more than
300 military shows in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, Bahrain, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Korea, Kwajelean, Guam, Japan, Iceland and other countries.
The statuesque, striking blonde has a girl-next-door presence with a big smile that makes her well-suited to the task of bringing a bit of sunny laughter to a monotone war zone.
Her solo performance reflects the scrapbook of her life, as she weaves together stories about family, her visits to battlefields and her contemplations on the human experience for a heartfelt and funny tapestry of emotional life.
This funny-girl took a roundabout route to the USO stage.
Rawlings grew up in Salina, Kansas, went to college to study biology and decided to become a stand-up comedian instead. She’s carved out a ubiquitous career in comedy and has made a name for herself on the comedy circuit, including stints on television on Comedy Central, CMT, PBS, FOX, VH1, A&E and “The Joy Behar Show.” When she’s not performing on the front lines for soldiers, she has shared the stage with Faith Hill, the late George Carlin and the vice president of the United States, and is a popular keynote speaker around the country.
But although she works to make the troops laugh, Rawlings is not immune to the effects of war that she has seen. Influenced by her experiences in the “heart of darkness,” she was moved to create a documentary film based on the footage she shot during a trip to Bosnia. “Forgotten Voices: Women in Bosnia” is Rawlings’ attempt to “give voice to the forgotten victims of war,” in this case, several women who survived the war in Bosnia.
Rawlings is also the author of a children’s book and numerous magazine articles, as well as writing a popular weekly blog for the magazine Hybrid Mom. She is a featured writer in the book: “I Killed: Road Stories from America’s Top Comedians.”
Such a busy mother of a big brood certainly begs the question that she’s asked often: “Who takes care of the kids?”
Her husband, whom she calls “amazing,” has been holding down the fort and looking after the kids while mom is away since her youngest was 2.
“My kids are all teenagers now, the youngest is 13 ... hence the need to go on the road,” she jokes.
That’s her M.O. She uses her life to create an act that relates to everyone else’s life, whether they’re in the military or not.
People from all walks of life can relate, she said, though she does tailor a certain portion of the act for military folks when she goes on the USO tours. She calls laughter the great peacemaker.
“I do not have any political agenda when I do a show,” Rawlings said.
“Both liberals and conservatives love my show because it’s about people not politics. I just share my personal experiences and people can attribute whatever they want to the story.”
In addition to cooking, cleaning, pleading with her kids to do homework, nagging her husband, and telling jokes at theaters and comedy clubs around the globe, Rawlings is currently at work on a new book.
Tickets range from $18 to $22 and are available at the WICA box office 221-8268 or 800-638-7631, or visit www.WICAonline.com.
WICA partners with Military Merits and extends discounts to people in uniform, including family members, retirees and other defense workers.