Mideast tour: white people and a total lack of irony
September 26, 2007
On my comedy tour of the Middle East, I was brought to realize many things.
Our military is a lot whiter than I had imagined. In fact, a huge swath of the US Armed Forces is made up of recent (Caucasian) high school graduates from Texas, Indiana, and Ohio.
At one point, I said to one of the other comics, “I thought the military had a lot more black people.”
He replied, “No, you’re thinking of Vietnam.”
(Update: A commenter has provided this link [downloadable PDF] to the relevant data).
Living in Manhattan for awhile will give you a skewed picture of American demographics. If I had to guess, I’d guess Manhattan was roughly fifty or sixty percent white people, but all of them relatively wealthy, while a large percentage of everyone else are recent immigrants.* Every very rare once in awhile, you see a homeless white person, and think: what, possibly, could be the excuse for that?
(*Side note: Manhattan has as high a percentage of recent immigrants as, say, Texas, but nowhere near the anti-immigrant sentiment, because it is so terribly obvious that without hardworking recent immigrants, some of them illegal, we wouldn’t be able to afford to go out to eat, get our nails, laundry, and dry cleaning done, our food delivered, and many other services. You ever try to get your nails done in the suburbs? Try making an appointment and paying $35! A million small things are cheaper in New York thanks to a constant influx of immigration).
On Army and Air Force bases, we often did shows to crowds of 600-700 soldiers, many of whom would line up afterwards for autographs. They hadn’t known who we were before the show (well, there was one guy whose wife loved my work on McSweeney’s — dear god did that make my evening!), but there was literally nothing else to do, and an acute shortage of women.
The McSweeney’s note was especially unusual, as the entire remainder of our tour was free of irony and of any appreciation of irony. As well, perhaps, it should have been, as earnestness may be a necessary means of bolstering oneself for peril.
At Camp Buehring, Kuwait — a training base where soldiers are stationed for a short time just prior to deployment in Iraq — we did a show for an audience that was both armed, and shipping off to Iraq an hour after the show. One officer, observing the mood of the crowd, explained that much of the audience wasn’t laughing out loud because “Twenty or thirty of these guys are going to get blown up just on the way there.” In the autograph line after the show, one soldier took his signed photograph of Laura Rosenberg and showed us where it would be taped to the butt of his rifle, to keep him company in combat. Is it 1944? I thought, and then Well, goddamn.
Towards the end of the tour, we did a show on the USS Enterprise, and the ship’s media officer did taped interviews of us for the ship’s local TV channel (when they don’t have something like a rerun of last night’s comedy show to play, it’s just a blue screen with motivational messages scrolling by). Despite all the (wry, offbeat) quotes that could’ve been extracted from those interviews, when the ship’s newsletter came out the next morning, it was peppered with made-up (unfunny) quotes purportedly from the comics, things like, “Performing for the troops who are defending our country makes me proud to be an American,” and, “Entertaining the hardworking men and women of the USS Enterprise is the greatest experience of my life.”
We did not say those things. But we forgive the “media specialist” responsible.