The GIs of Comedy have their boots on, and they are heading our way.
They are a trio of military guys who aren’t above joking about their line of work. Two of them, Tom Irwin and Thom Tran, are from Western New York. Tran was on the radio here: He was a traffic reporter for WBEN-AM and a disc jockey on the Edge.
Irwin and Tran have retired from the military. The third comedian, Jose Sarduy, is an Air Force Reserve major and is still an active soldier. The three are performing at 7 p.m. Saturday at SUNY Buffalo State’s Rockwell Hall, taping the presentation for broadcast, with luck, next summer. And they invite people to give their comedy a shot, whether or not you are military-minded.
“A lot of people worry that it’s all going to be GI comedy, but we’re all special comics,” Tran said. “We talk about our lives. We’re all fathers and brothers and cousins and computer nerds. I am a comic book nerd. I just got engaged. We make sure that our jokes that pertain to the military also translate to the civilian community.”
All three men know what they are talking about. Their sincerity will endear them to civilian listeners, as well as soldiers.
“I was in Iraq for a year,” Tran said. “I was part of a reserve unit from Tonawanda. We were one of the first units to cross the border, in March 2003. I got shot the fourth day in Iraq, and I stayed. We had a mission to do. I lost my roommate two weeks before we came home to an improvised explosive device.”
“I came home in really rough shape in 2004. I was kind of the poster child for post-traumatic stress syndrome. I got back from Iraq and comedy became my therapy. It was my replacement for the drugs that the VA were trying to cram down my throat. It was my way of dealing with life. It became my career.”
Tran met Irwin in a comedy club in Long Beach, Calif.
“It’s funny we didn’t know each other in Buffalo,” Irwin said. “We’ve been together for two years doing this tour. It’s been very rewarding and exciting. This isn’t the end game, but definitely one of our goals.”
Saturday’s show is presented in partnership with SUNY Buffalo State. It will offer students from the college’s communication department a chance to get hands-on experience with the production.
“This tour is a labor of love,” Tran said. “If this was about making money, it would have ended a long time ago.”
It has other rewards. Tran learned that one evening at Fort Riley in Kansas.
“I had just finished my set and went outside for air. A young soldier came up and said, ‘Hey, Sergeant, I just got back from Afghanistan. All I wanted to do was sit in my barracks and get drunk. My buddy dragged me out. This is the first time I have laughed and smiled in a month.’
“I could see he was hurting. He’d lost guys. He said, ‘Thank you.’ He hugged me, and he started crying. I started crying. I said, “I’m a staff sergeant, and you guys are privates. I can’t be crying in front of you. Drop down and do 10 push-ups.”
“They said, ‘Are you going to pull rank?’ Yes, I’m going to pull rank.” He laughs.
The GIs of Comedy are happy to be there for soldiers, or anyone else, who need a dose of their therapy. Comedy, they believe, beats counseling.
“I think being on stage, whether it’s jokes about army, or about getting married – it’s therapeutic for us in a way,” Tran said. “The audience laughs and tells us, ‘Hey, man, we get it. We know where you’re coming from.’ ”
What: The GIs of Comedy
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rockwell Hall, SUNY Buffalo State, 1300 Elmwood Ave.
Tickets: $20; military and veterans admitted free