Recently, NMFA was approached by filmmaker and former comedian, Jordan Brady, who directed and produced a documentary called “I Am Battle Comic,” the last installment in a trilogy of documentaries. He loved NMFA’s mission, and decided to premier the film in several cities across the U.S. and generously offered to donate money from ticket sales directly to NMFA!
Jordan chose Detroit, Michigan as the inaugural location for the film’s world premiere, which just happens to be where I was born and raised. As a homegrown Detroiter, I knew I had to head back home for this amazing event!
My work in the realm of military family life has never taken me ‘back home’ before, and I honestly wasn’t sure how my fellow Michiganders perceived the military, in general. Would it be well received? Do the people from my hometown have any interest in what military life is like? Would they even want to know what our lives look like? Of course my own family and friends do, but what about the community as a whole? As it turns out I had totally underestimated Detroit, and the joke was on me!
“I Am Battle Comic” is a documentary following four stand-up comedians–Slade Ham, Don Barnhart, Jeff Capri and Bob Kubota–who tour the Middle East in a mission to entertain troops who are forward deployed. The film also features one-on-one interviews with comedians like George Lopez, Tammy Pescatelli, Dave Attell, George Wallace, Shawn Halpin, Jennifer Rawlings, and Wayne Federman as they talk about their own experiences performing for troops overseas.
Even though there isn’t a very large military presence in the Detroit area, there was a large showing of military and veteran love in that theater. So many Michiganders came out to support NMFA, the film, the comedians, and the Detroit area in general. Even some of my own family and friends came out to see our efforts in action! My hometown wasn’t just military friendly, it was a community that truly wanted to understand military life and came out to view it through a different lens.
There were so many hilarious and candid moments throughout the film, ranging from absolute absurdity to gut-busting irony. The comedians in the film were able to give hundreds of service members that momentary reprieve from a life where the days drag on and every day feels like Monday. For many of the troops, these shows may have been the first time they have laughed in MONTHS.
Actor and comedian George Lopez shared a little about the making of the documentary,”We take them on a virtual reality trip back home…back home to their family, to the different cultures, to the hood and stories we all relate to. Then we drop them back off in hell a few hours later.”
“I Am Battle Comic” also had some emotionally charged moments. Comedian Shawn Halpin, an Infantry Marine veteran, broke down during his interview as he detailed his bunkmate’s suicide.
“I had to take his body back to his parents,” Shawn said as he wiped tears from his eyes. “It’s so hard.”
At that moment, I looked around the theater and realized there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
This movie provided a peek into the lives of our nation’s deployed service members, the conditions they are exposed to, and dynamics civilians rarely get to see. We all watched as this small group of comedians met with five or six units and squadrons each day and spent time talking to and taking pictures with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines before each performance.
The audience in Detroit that evening laughed, cried, and most assuredly walked away with a little more perspective about deployment life in the military.
Two of the comedians from the film, Slade Ham and Tammy Pescatelli, came all the way to Detroit to participate in a Q&A session after the film with Jordan and moderator Chuck Meehan. Before they began, I was invited to speak about NMFA, what our mission is and some of the programs we offer, like our Operation Purple Camps.
That’s when Tammy said, “Hey MJ! How much does it cost to send a military kid to one of these camps?” So I replied, “About as much as it costs for your morning coffee each day–around $5.00 a day for a month could sent a military kid to camp.” Without missing a beat, Tammy says to the audience, “Who here wants to send a kid to camp? What is that, $150 bucks? Who’s got $150 to send a kid to camp and help NMFA with their mission? You got $300 from me, MJ.”
That’s when people started raising their hands and yelling out the amounts that they wanted to give, “$100…. $150…I got $200 here!” And they started putting their credit cards in the air and holding cash up, as well! Detroit was on FIRE! They even auctioned off a Fender Stratocaster for $1200 that was donated by Fender Guitars!
Even though this fantastic film was able to raise money for NMFA, “I Am Battle Comic” did so much more than that.
“The privilege of serving laughs to those who serve our nation is considered an honor,” filmmaker Jordan Brady said.
Detroit was a great place to test the waters with this film, especially since there are several more premieres of “I Am Battle Comic” coming up in various cities across the country! Check out the “I Am Battle Comic” trailer below and see if they’ll be in YOUR hometown!
**WARNING: Trailer contains adult language, so you may want to grab your earbuds if there are any ‘little ears’ around you!**