STAND-UP TUESDAYS: Graham Elwood

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Stand-Up Tuesdays is a weekly comedy spotlight written by the wonderfully talented Angie Frissore. Covering both known and unknown comics, Stand-up Tuesdays is your new source for all things funny.

This week, Angie puts a spotlight on Graham Elwood and his latest release, Laffghanistan: Comedy Down Range. If you or your comedy troupe would like to be featured on Stand-Up Tuesdays, please email utgjames@gmail.com.

Surprising as it may be, stand-up comedy isn’t always fun and games for comedians, especially those who take their craft to a new level by using it to give back.  I recently had the chance to talk with comedian Graham Elwood – not only about what he’s currently doing, but more importantly, what he’s done.  Earlier this year, Elwood completed his sixth USO tour performing for our country’s soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Comedy has played an important role in the USO since 1942, and Elwood’s endeavors put him alongside comedic heavyweight talents such as Steve Martin and Jay Leno, both of whom have performed in USO tours in their careers. In 2009, Elwood documented his experience traveling to Afghanistan in his film Laffghanistan: Comedy Down Range and performing for our troops in the middle of a war zone.

“It’s one of the most emotionally and physically challenging things I’ve ever done,” Elwood recalls, “and like, the most rewarding. We’re flying on Blackhawks, doing a couple of shows a day, and we flew to this one base towards the end of the tour that was 300 meters from the Iranian border. It’s this small little outpost, and we did a show in front of about 35, mostly Army, I think there were one or two women in the show. This whole base has about 125 people in it, and we’re in this tent – and it was just amazing.  It’s a small outpost, mostly infantry, and most of the infantry is young.  Some of them that’s the first comedy show they’ve ever been to.”

Laffghanistan goes above and beyond your typical comedy documentary – which one would expect from a self-proclaimed comedy film nerd like Elwood.  The film follows Elwood as he’s flown first from the US to Frankfurt, Germany (where, thanks to a very military-style delay, we’re treated to a brief scene of Elwood rocking some serious martial arts poses in his boxer briefs) and ultimately to Kabul, Afghanistan where he’ll perform at various outposts.  Artistically edited, the film focuses more on Elwood’s journey and the work that our military is doing overseas than it does on Elwood’s comedy and gives a first-hand account of what conditions are like.

Surprisingly, Elwood is allowed to film freely in many settings, including a small Army hospital at which we’re actually taken into an operation to save a local boy with rocks and shrapnel deep in his brain. We fly with Elwood on Cobras and other military helicopters, and are even privy to an insightful scene in which Elwood confesses his growing desire to simply go home.

“There’s a lot of really dedicated comics, like Scott Kennedy – he’s done like fifty tours himself. The comics I’ve been over there with, and the comics who’ve just been over there, we all sort of share kind of a unique bond about what going over there’s like,” Elwood reflects. “You see stuff – like, they show you, because you’re a comedian, and you get tours of everything and talk to commanding officers, and you hear a lot of information and stuff that you probably never hear. Soldiers confide stuff in you, things they’re having a tough time with that they wouldn’t tell someone in their unit about. You’re like an entertainer, a journalist and a therapist all rolled into one.”

Laffghanistan is not without its humor, mind you.  The film is dotted with typical Elwood quirky brand of humor and provides a truly entertaining view of Afghanistan through Elwood’s eyes.  What’s even better is that you can download Laffghanistan: Comedy Down Range over at Elwood’s website, ComedyFilmNerdsDotCom.com, at whatever price you see fit – all to support independent film-making.

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