Sometimes you find your life as a stand-up and sketch comedian in New York City interrupted when your other life as a soldier in the U.S. Army orders you to report for duty, and you find yourself sent to Baghdad, Iraq for the better part of a year. Puts a crimp in the comedy. Until Stephen Colbert shows up to tape a week's worth of shows with and for the troops.
"Five years in New York and I had to go all the way to Iraq to make it into Colbert's writers' room." -- Sgt. First Class Benari Poulten
As he wrote when he added this photo of himself with Colbert on his Facebook page on Monday: Mission Accomplished. We've already introduced you to Sgt. First Class Benari Poulten, who has been serving in Iraq with the Army's communications office. Which put him in a perfect spot for connecting with Comedy Central's crew from The Colbert Report. Poulten wrote to me this afternoon:
"I got to hang out with him and his writers and staff in the production/writers' room for a day and half. And see the rehearsals and the first two tapings. Awesome guy. And the writers were all cool - I was afraid that once we established the whole New York comedy scene connection, they'd be like, 'Aw, no, get this dude outta here!' But they were amazingly cool and friendly and we talked about all the folks we knew in common and comedy and New York...good times. I even got to act as a kind of impromptu military advisor - AND I got to throw in a few suggestions. Not bad for war. 5 years in New York and I had to go all the way to Iraq to make it into Colbert's writers' room.
"The troops loved the show - it was huge. Colbert was very respectful and genuinely supportive of the troops, but he didn't water anything down. He even managed to pull in huge laughs on a very political 'Formidable Opponent' piece about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Most impressive."
Here's that Colbert segment from last night's program:
How many comedians also are military veterans? Rob Riggle served in the Marine Corps before becoming an SNL featured player and Daily Show correspondent. And then there's Benari Poulten, make that Sgt. First Class Benari Poulten of the Army Reserves. When living in New York City, Poulten is part of the Shoot the Messenger production, writing and performing crew, helping to skewer the morning TV news machine, and also spending a few days here and there serving our nation. Until Poulten got called for active duty. After a farewell party in late September, Poulten shipped off for training in Alabama, and is expected to spend 2009 in Baghdad helping serve the Army's communications functions out of Iraq. As Poulten and I joked then, Shoot the Messenger's mocking misinformation probably already would be good training for military disinformation. Don't worry, U.S. Army, those were my joking words, not his.
Poulten says his friends and comedians should still be able to follow him through his military service through Facebook. Ah, the modern war. When Veterans Day rolled around, I thought of Poulten and reached out to him online. Turns out he got to spend Thanksgiving weekend home with his family, and you'll also be able to see and hear him live tonight in Boston, at Mottley's Comedy Club, opening for Jon Fisch.
Here is what else Poulten had to tell me about his life in active service:
Just got done with three days of Iraqi culture training where we’ve gotten outstanding instruction from an Iraqi woman who now works for DoD (Department of Defense). I’ve learned such helpful Iraqi phrases as “tasharafna”, meaning “I’m pleased to meet you.” Or “Shukran il musaa’atek”, “Thank you for your help.” And “Thib slaaHak tara armee,” “Drop your weapon or I will shoot.”
The Daily Show is not the only faux news team in the Twin Cities this week for the 2008 Republican National Convention. Lizz Winstead brought her Shoot the Messenger crew from New York City to Minnesota, where they're in the middle of a three-night run at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis (final show tonight at 7 p.m.). The StarTribune talked to Winstead about the field trip -- we learn her brother is the Republican mayor of nearby Bloomington -- and here, we can see an excerpt from their first night's show on Tuesday, which, for those of you who need reminding, is built around "Wake Up World with Hope and Davis," the nation's only six-hour morning program hosted by Hope Jean Paul (Winstead) and Davis Miles (Baron Vaughn):
If you haven't seen Lizz Winstead's latest creation, then you're missing out. Winstead, who co-created The Daily Show and later went on to Air America Radio, now has her sights set on skewering morning TV. Her Monday night show, Shoot the Messenger, recently moved into larger digs at The Green Room at 45 Bleecker. In the new venue, the set design and everything else feels much more like an actual morning TV program (even if it's not actually six hours, as advertised in the tagline for "Wake Up World with Hope and Davis," TV's only six-hour morning 'infonewsment' show). There are the requisite sofa, chair and coffee table. A separate news desk.
Benari Poulten plays the frat-tastic energetic audience warm-up guy. Baron Vaughn as Davis Miles plays affable co-host to Winstead's ridiculous Hope Jean Paul. Each week typically features a taped interview segment with self-help author, "Life Expert" Dana Levan (Carol Hartsell). A big screen behind the stage plays these pre-taped bits, new toons, and last week offered a well-executed debate between other 24/7 network anchors (played by Lucas Held and Sean Crespo) with Vaughn moderating it live.
Here is a segment from last Monday:
And here is a toon they produced about the Democratic horse race:
It's unlike The Daily Show, which makes direct jokes about actual news and newsgatherers, nor is it like The Onion News Network, which is all about fake news. No. Shoot The Messenger aims somewhere in between, poking fun at the actual ridiculousness of morning TV news. After each week's 45-minute production, there's an intermission, after which Winstead returns to the stage as herself to talk about what they're up to, then interviews a special guest. Last week, she talked with Andy Borowitz about the 2008 campaign. Borowitz complimented Winstead on creating "a fully realized character" as well as the technology behind the production.
Tonight's Shoot The Messenger won't be the usual production, however. Instead, Vaughn and Darbi Worley will host a show centered on the several comedians who contribute to the program, with video highlights of their contributions followed by their stand-up. On the bill: Jeff Kreisler, Sean Crespo, Lucas Held, Baron Vaughn, Carol Hartsell and Jamie Kilstein.