The Comedy Warriors is a worthwhile investment of about an hour of time for just about anyone who has ever; laughed, been in pain or both. Much more than just a simple documentary about life after a catastrophic loss of limb, this film explores the power of the uniquely human emotion of humor and documents its miraculous ability to heal the deepest wounds of all; those of the mind.
By D.R. Harward, staff writer
Directed by veteran filmmaker John Wager (Bicycle Lessons), he doesn’t deviate from the standard documentary style of linear story-telling interjected with either, one-on-one interviews or back-story segments—he leverages familiarity to achieve an invisibility of process which serves to highlight the message. Or messages, as I should say, as this is one of those works that has multiple levels of message; skillfully woven into one seamless whole.
The film follows five recently discharged veterans who have sustained grievous injury on their last tour of duty as they prepare for their public debut as stand-up comedians at a landmark comedy club. The Comedy Warrior Project (“Project”) identified disabled veterans who had an interest in stand-up comedy and paired them with a writing coach and a professional comedian to prepare for their first time on-stage. In many ways this could be thought of as an experiment testing the idea that laughter has healing properties. Tutoring is provided in an effort to maximize the benefits received by minimizing the impact of the two most difficult aspects of being a performer; writing and delivering material to a live audience.
The coaching talent is first-rate, including; Mr. Mark Brakill (co-creator of That 70’s Show, writer on In Living Color), Ms. Bernadette Luckett (writer on Sister, Sister and the Tracy Morgan Show) and Mr. Bob Saget (America’s Funniest Home Videos, Full House). The stable of performance coaches is equally impressive, including; Mr. Lewis Black (actor, author, playwright, and stand-up comedian), Mr. Zach Galifianakis (the Hangover 1 & 2, the Campaign), and Mr. B.J. Novak (the Office, Inglorious Basterds). Oftentimes a show with this much talent loses its focus and becomes a mere showcase, not so here! Instead, we are treated to dialogue which reveals tantalizing bits and pieces of the process behind writing a good joke, disguised behind one-liners about being an amputee. I won’t go as far as saying that the jokes told are tasteful, but they certainly are not tasteless.
In addition to being a chronicle about the experiences of five lucky soldiers, this is a public reminder of the continuous challenges faced by the multitude of wounded Americans returning home from foreign shores. The message here is about more than the curative effects of laughter or the success of any one veteran; for me the message was simple; we mustn’t ever give up hope nor forget about those whom our government has sacrificed on our behalf.
This flick even has an element of scandal, for those of us who enjoy a little drama behind our comedy-drama documentaries; a brief background about the production. The Comedy Warriors, from concept to completion, was facilitated by the Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”). The Wounded Warrior Project is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 “(t)o help injured service members aid and assist each other.” Beginning in a garage, the WWP has evolved into one of the leading advocates for veteran’s rights in Washington D C and is a provider of recovery services for injured soldiers at home. In fiscal year 2014 the company reported over $154 million in revenues, which some have suggested is being misspent. Extravagant salaries and spending very little on wounded vets instead, funding programs and events based on their PR value, which in reality reach very few actual soldiers are some of the criticisms initiated by Ret. Staff Sgt. Dean Graham and since have refused to die; despite the WWP aggressively pursuing legal means of silencing Mr. Graham. This film seems to preserve for posterity what could be thought of as a prime example of the sort of program that Graham took issue with; one that seems to have little chance of directly benefitting the average wounded service member (primarily due to the availably celebrity coaches). Is the Comedy Warriors a mere public relations vehicle or the evidence of a level of altruism that we should all strive to achieve? A vindication or a smoking gun—you be the judge, watch it today.
4 out of 5 stars