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November 23, 2007

Recap: "Where Have You Been?"

Last night I appeared in Jeff Stark's Where Have You Been? show, a sort of slideshow and panel discussion in which three guests discuss their recent travels.

I was there to talk about my three-week tour entertaining the troops in the Middle East on an Armed Forces Entertainment comedy tour.

The show took place in the progressive, collectively-owned Bluestockings Bookstore, but luckily no one shouted anything about blood for oil (or tried to shame me into veganism).

Here are the slides that were part of my presentation, with a couple extras that didn't quite fit into the show. Some of these will look familiar to regular blog readers:


This airport looked "foreign," in a way, but also had
not only a Starbucks, but a Claire's (the little-girl jewelry store).

In the Kuwaiti airport.

Also in the Kuwaiti airport. Like I'd never left New York.

A typical hotel breakfast -- foul mudamas, a comfort food made
of mashed or heavily cooked beans, falafel, hard-boiled egg.

Why I was there.

This Starbucks is in a trailer in the middle
of a tent city in a 125-degree desert.

Performing on an outdoor stage in Kuwait.

Signing autographs in the USO tent.

I have a lot of photos that look just like this, but
I thought one with lady soldiers was more interesting.

Comedians trying a shooting simulation. Or, as Jeff Stark said,
"Obligatory girls-with-guns photo." Fortunately for the state
of the world, the shooting simulations actually also test ethics
and procedures; if you shoot an unarmed civilian, the "game" ends,
and the legend "DEFEND YOUR ACTIONS" appears across the screen,
at which point you must explain yourself to an actual,
flesh-and-blood superior officer.

The Wall of Death, where Saddam lined up and executed Kuwaiti sailors.

Doing a show in the hangar on the USS Enterprise. Planes continually landed on the level just above us.

Another view of the crowd.

On a helicopter traveling from the USS Enterprise to the USS
Gettysburg, both a couple hundred miles into the Persian Gulf.

The view from the side of the helicopter, which flew with
its door open the entire way.

I took this photo inside the helicopter. I sometimes have
a really immature sense of humor.

On the base in Djibouti. Living in a shipping container is actually
a great privilege; the entry-level accommodation is just a tent.

In a souvenir shop in Bahrain. In such souvenir shops, I noted a shocking quantity of Christmas kitsch: ornaments, Santa figurines, a Christmas poem written in calligraphy on a slice of a log, even a cross-stitched Christmas stocking. Apparently, the locals find these items to be exotic Westernalia. One of the log mobiles, like the one pictured, included the misquoted platitudes: "A penny saved is a penny gained" and "An ounce of discretion is worth a pound of learning."

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September 26, 2007

Mideast tour: Blake and Andrew

Apropos to my last post, on the victory of earnestness over irony among our armed forces, here is something I am delighted to have taped.

At Camp L.S.A., Kuwait, two young soldiers stood out in the crowd because they showed up after I'd already begun my set, and because they had bothered to go back to their tents and change into civilian clothes. One even had bleached-out hair -- they looked good, but a bit out of place. I teased them a bit from the stage, and when they came through the autograph line, they told us they made music, and asked if, should they go to their tents and retrieve their guitars, we would sign them.

That turned into this:



They performed two songs for us. Andrew, on the left, was charmingly nervous. I later received a MySpace message from Blake -- his profile says he's just 20! I know these young men have important and difficult jobs to do, but seriously: could boys get any cuter?

Blake and Andrew are thinking of moving to Nashville once they get out of the service. They don't have a band name yet. Perhaps they are taking suggestions?

I have kept in touch and offered to find them a place to play when they come to New York, perhaps in January. I am inviting all my lady friends.

The delighted audience. Comics rarely finish doing a show...
and then get a show done back for them.

Andrew, Blake, and the girls in the USO.
Note the signed guitars.

The USO at Camp LSA was an air-conditioned oasis full of IKEA couches on an otherwise bleak desert base. (Even though it all looks very nice, keep in mind one still has to leave the tent and walk 50 yards through 125-degree heat to get to the latrines). Note the psychedelic decorating scheme -- somehow the USO has co-opted the imagery of the Vietnam protest movement to provide today's troops with the nicest tent in all of Kuwait.

Eventually, Blake and Andrew's superior officers made us wrap it up -- after all, it was nearly 9:30.

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Mideast tour: white people and a total lack of irony

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).

Performing in the hangar of the Enterprise

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.

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Mideast tour: Comedy at Camp Arafjan



This recording starts mid-joke, but it's pretty decent for a digital camera in an outdoor setting. This was actually from the first day of the tour, 8/23, in Kuwait.

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September 24, 2007

Mideast tour: I finally put some flat objects in my scanner

Now settled in after my Mideast tour, I've finally found time to scan some souvenirs.


I bought this greeting card in Kuwait. It came from a whole line of greeting cards featuring cute cartoon burqa-clad women and dishdasha-clad men doing things like barbecuing, riding on a magic carpet, and in one case, being visited by space aliens.

In Djibouti, I found myself saving everything that said "Djibouti" on it. Iced coffee is not well-known outside America, but the hotel staff at the Djibouti Kempinski was quite enthusiastic about making me one (for what looks on the receipt like $700!) The beverage I received was laden with heavy cream and had been strained over ice, but was served sans ice, making its temperature only infinitesimally lower than that of the hotel at large. Like a cool bath. In a glass.


I purchased a bowl decorated with elephants at this shop in Djibouti. The proprietors were really adamant about giving me their business card, which had been faintly xeroxed and badly cut, but basically got the message out about HAPPY SHOP. And now it's on my blog! So next time you're in, say, Somalia, go ahead and take a detour to Djibouti. The bowls are great.


There is a coin shortage on US military bases. Instead of actual metal currency, you receive these cardboard "pogs" as change. Annoying! I'm stuck with seventy-five cents' worth. I'm going to mail them to my mom so she can see if they'll take them at the Navy Exchange back home. I've always wanted to buy my mom a pack of gum.


These are my alcohol ration cards from the Army bases in Qatar and Djibouti. There's a three-drink a day limit, although that seems to be something of a formality for performers, perhaps especially female performers. I think I could have obtained really as much alcohol as I personally desired to consume.

Just add meat and milk cards for that old-time World War II feeling.

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September 20, 2007

Mideast tour: leaving on a jet plane

Specifically, a Learjet from Kuwait to Qatar.

More specifically, a Learjet that was sent from Qatar to Kuwait to pick up four comedians because, after the comedians woke up at 2am for a 3am call for a drive to a secured military airstrip for a 7am (non-Learjet) flight, it was discovered that the pilot of said 7am flight had arrived at 3am, dropped off four passengers, thus making room for the comedians -- and then promptly departed. Calls were made. Comedians were tired and annoyed. Naps were taken. A Learjet came. The part of the video inside the jet is really loud. It's kind of hard to talk in a Learjet, even though you sort of feel like a financially successful rapper.

I don't know what a Learjet flight runs the military (you can charter one yourself for about $2K/hour), but somebody cost the taxpayers some bucks on this one.



"Ninety percent of your body is water -- very little of it is land."

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September 19, 2007

Mideast tour: the largest paper bag EVER

Other comics on the Mideast tour were extremely interested in the technical details of how a plane lands on the deck of an aircraft carrier, which is much shorter than a runway.

Me? I was very interested in the largest paper bag EVER.

Christina Lopez is a doll for playing along.

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September 14, 2007

Mideast tour: tents in which I have slept

As I was leaving on this tour, people asked whether I was scared.

"No," I would say. "I have no problem doing dangerous things. I have little fear of death. What I do fear is discomfort. I'll happily jump out of an airplane, provided at the end of the day there's a chaise lounge and a nice Shiraz."

So, basically I want to be James Bond.

Alas. Instead, try three weeks of very little danger and constant sweaty, buggy, ill-lit, breakfast-skipping, desert-trek-to-the-bathroom, cargo-plane-riding discomfort.

Here you go:


In Qatar...


...and in Djibouti.

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September 13, 2007

Mideast tour: Jen shops for camels

Don't buy a sickly camel! This is me negotiating for camels in the PX at Camp Arafjan, Kuwait.



One fun fact I learned in my brief time in the Mideast is that citizens of oil-rich nations such as Kuwait and Qatar don't have jobs. (Why bother, when you receive reverse taxation from the government?) They also, judging from the shopping I saw in the airport and in two malls, buy a tremendous quantity of Bulgari, Burberry, Hermes, and other designer goods.

This means that all of the actual work in countries like Kuwait is done by Indian and Southeast Asian people. I bought a dress from a Filipina woman in Kuwait who closed her shop every time the call for prayer came around -- and then she just hid inside the shop, arranging racks of clothes in front of the glass windows.

When visiting a foreign country, one's contact with locals often comes in large measure from interacting with servicepeople. In Kuwait, however, since none of the servicepeople are locals, and there are taboos against men talking to strange women, and it hardly seems inviting to test out the English skills of a woman who keeps her face covered and carries a $2,000 handbag ... a person can spend a long time in Kuwait without ever talking to a Kuwaiti person.

Another consequence of reverse taxation is that it's really pretty difficult to purchase a souvenir of Kuwait. Kuwaitis don't make handicrafts. You can certainly, however, go to Kuwait and buy something from an Indian vendor, imported from India, with a picture of a camel on it and the word "Kuwait" stamped on it by Indian laborers. But that's as close as you can get.

How terribly unfair that India didn't get any oil. And how baffled the Indian vendors on base must be when mistaken by Americans for Kuwaitis.

Update: The Intrepid Young Journalist points out that India is lucky it didn't get oil, because instead it got democracy. To explain: the "resource curse" is the phenomenon by which states that are rich in resources do not have to negotiate with their people for wealth and productivity; thus, resource-rich nations typically rule absolutely and have no need to develop the means for democracy. When oil is free and the government owns it all, the people had better shut the hell up and just collect their checks. This creates a quite different dynamic of power than in states in which elected leaders have to campaign and extract taxes from working people in order to rule. As a result, they rule -- to put it mildly -- less absolutely.

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September 12, 2007

Mideast tour: Jen on the pull-up bar at Camp Arafjan

At the urging of Gunner Honeywood, I took up a dare to qualify as a female Marine by doing the flexed-arm hang for 70 seconds.

Incidentally, I did this AFTER having done seven pull-ups. I can't say this is the most eventful of videos; in fact, I don't move for seventy seconds.

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Mideast tour: the Arabic word for "stop"

Comics Jennifer Dziura and Chris Freeman, on an Armed Forces Entertainment tour of the Mideast, contemplate the Arabic word for "stop." They know no actual Arabic.

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September 10, 2007

Mideast tour: my mom's response to this photo from Camp Virginia, Kuwait


Dear Jen,

Camp VIRGINIA? Who knew? This is one part of Virginia I have no desire to visit. I've been enjoying your blog. This is a cute picture. There's enough fabric in your skirt to make a lot of hotpants.

Love Mom



Please sign the petition to convince my mom to start her own blog.

You know, the photo above looks all sunny and nice, but it was actually so painfully hot and dry -- 127 degrees, like being baked on a cookie sheet -- that I could barely stand out of the shade for long enough to shoot a photo. The first couple attempts looked like this:


Hence the sunglasses.

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September 9, 2007

Mideast tour: what to bring to the Middle East

September 6, 2007

Mideast tour: on the USS Gettysburg

Guns and wind, guns and wind!

After flying into Bahrain, we immediately were flown onto the USS Enterprise, 200 miles into the Persian Gulf. This required sitting in the tiny, windlowless nose of a plane, wearing a helmet, earplugs, and a harness (hot!), and, of course, landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier. We later watched this process, which is pretty amazing -- each airplane has a hooked tail that drags behind it, catching a cable, which keeps the plane from flying right off the other end of the aircraft carrier. If the plane fails to catch the cable, it is very important that the plane keep going full speed so it can fly off the other end, without falling into the water, and try again. Therefore, the planes landing on the flight deck don't slow down -- in fact, they speed up! And their little tails catch this rubber-band thing and just stop them cold. It's a little jarring from the inside.

After doing a show in the Enterprise's hangar later the same evening...



...and then a 9am (yes, a.m., oh-nine-hundred) show the next morning for the guys who work nights, we were transported by helicopter to the USS Gettysburg for an afternoon show in the mess hall. Um, how cool is that? The helicopter's door stayed open the entire time, with a big gun poking out of it. On the way back, the guy who operates the gun had his shirt off for the whole ride. (It certainly was hot, but it might have had something to do with the all-women comedy show).

Here's a video from the deck of the USS Gettysburg:

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Mideast tour: a good view of Djibouti

The other lady comics on the trip, Laura and Christina, took malaria medication before coming. I didn't. I mean, it was "optional." Why bother? So what I'm saying is that I have malaria.

Djibouti is freaking filthy. The US is there on a humanitarian mission, which means trigger-happy Marines are sometimes bummed out to find that their new assignment involves painting schools.

We were warned to NEVER DRINK THE WATER and, in fact, DON'T EVEN BRUSH YOUR TEETH WITH IT -- yet everywhere there were sinks labeled "NON-POTABLE WATER, FOR SANITARY PURPOSES ONLY." So if I brush my teeth with it, I'll die, but I should be using the stuff to wash my hands, rinse foreign objects from my eyes, and wash out wounds? Good idea! Very sanitary.

In the market in Djibouti, various locals objected to my videography, so I surreptitiously took several very short videos and strung them together here. There's not as much comedian-bantering, but I do think this represents the Djibouti experience, except that none of the women would consent to be photographed. (Although this video does end with a man trying to sell me a headscarf by modeling it himself. He seemed secure in his masculinity).

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Mideast tour: in the belly of a Navy ship in the Persian Gulf

After arriving in Bahrain, we were flown 200 miles offshore to the USS Enterprise, a city-sized aircraft carrier. We were treated like kings! (And I do mean "kings" -- wait 'til you see the Suave).

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September 2, 2007

Mideast tour: how to get in and out of Djibouti

Getting to Djibouti from Qatar required five and a half hours on a C-130 -- a cargo plane in which you sit on a pull-out, lawn-chair-like seat, and pee in a bucket in the back of the plane, behind the cargo.

Our flight here began with about fifteen minutes of sitting on the plane, inserting our earplugs, melting in 120+ degree heat. Then the A/C came on and the temperature dropped to about 40. I borrowed a windbreaker and slept, on and off, and tried to limit my fluids. Seriously, watch this video:



Somewhere in the last half of the flight, I woke up and decided I'd have to just suck it up and pee in the bucket. I started to squeeze past the cargo to the bathroom area when a female airman (er, airwoman) -- a tall, young black woman looking hot in her aviator glasses, and forevermore to be known as the Angel of Pants On -- signaled for me to take out my airplugs, and then shouted that we were landing in ten minutes.

We're about to board another C-130. It's 4:30am here, and our flight's been canceled once already, meaning we're behind schedule. We may have to travel and do a show in the same day, which isn't supposed to happen, but we're pretty good at bucking up and doing the show. Someone will meet us in Bahrain and let us know if we're off to a hotel, or a show on a base, or helicopter to a show on a ship.

I'm sleepy.

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Mideast tour: the trials of an introvert

Conversation I just had with a member of the United States Army:
Army: You are very attractive, but you are so unapproachable.

Me: I'm just checking my email and then I'm going to go to bed.

Army: It's like there's a starving man and you take a warm Thanksgiving turkey and put it right out of his reach! At least move the turkey a little closer so he can touch it!

Me: Women are not warm Thanksgiving turkeys. We are people with goals and jobs and interior monologues independent of your interest in our fresh meaty smell.

Army: I think you need to work on the approachability.
Solider then goes back to flirting with Christina, who is showing him the pictures on her digital camera. When pictures of me come up, he says, incredulously, "Look at her, she laughs! She looks so happy!"

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Mideast tour: fun with computers

I just had the unique experience of setting my iBook's Apple time clock to "Nearest city: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia."

You may be interested to know that Jenisfamous.com is banned by the government of Qatar:


And also by the U.S. military.


Reason? "Pornography."

Just wait til I get to upload my video about covering our filthy whore shoulders on base.

One more -- when you go to Google in Qatar, you get this:


Notice that the text box works from right to left!

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Mideast tour: from the stage

When I stepped off the plane in Kuwait, one of the first things I saw in the airport was a woman in the full ninja suit, just her little eyes poking out. I stared at her -- I couldn't help it. So she decided she was going to stare at me. I stared at her, she stared at me. I stared at her, she stared at me. Finally I stuck my tongue out -- and she had no means of retaliation.

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September 1, 2007

Mideast tour: I'm totally in Africa

Get your Beavis and Butthead voice ready...

I'm in Djibouti!

It is full of rubble and trash and abandoned tires and goats eating the rubble and trash and abandoned tires, and aggressive street vendors and children begging for food, and then the street vendors literally hit the children in the head for distracting the tourists from buying.


After days in the Middle East where I felt all but invisible around Kuwaiti men (and highly disdained by a few Qatari border guards), today I have had at least twenty Djiboutian men (pronounce: Zha-BOO-zhin) put their arms around me and call me "sister," while offering me a "special price."


All the touching is startling after being in countries in which husbands and wives can't even touch each other in public. I jumped when I felt someone behind me grab my hair; it was just a cute little girl, in a headscarf. And then, of course, some man whacked her in the head.


A bunch of Djiboutian men were actually requested that we pull out our cameras and take photos with them; they would then provide big qat-stained smiles and thumbs-up -- while the women would jump out of the way, knowing that my camera can store up to 800 souls when captured at 640 x 480 pixels.

In front of the "Jenyfer."

Despite terrible poverty, an awful lot of Djiboutian women look just like Naomi Campbell.

After being in town, we went swimming at the Hotel Kempinski, a $214/night property that looks like this:


To me, "swankiness" + "Africana" says "I think I saw this on an MTV special about Russell Simmons' house." It was fabulous. They make bread in the form of snakes!



A hotel employee in charge of arranging rose petals gave me this:


I have a ton of videos for you, but the internet here is painfully slow. Off to do a show!

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August 30, 2007

Mideast tour: off to Djibouti at 5am!

Gotta go!

We leave for Djibouti in a few hours. Might be a few days before I can post all the videos and photos I've shot.

Djibouti is the hottest place on Earth, and guys tonight have been telling me it's a hellhole all around. Of course, armed men in a hellhole need jokes.

xo
Jen

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Mideast tour: I have been sleeping in a tent in Qatar

Staying in a hotel in Kuwait spoiled us. We had showers connected to our very bedrooms! We had internet access and carpet and could go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without stumbling thirty yards or more across toasty-hot rocks and sand.

I haven't posted in thirty-six hours or so, but for good reason.

Here was my yesterday:

Our security detail gives us a 3am call time for a 7am flight to Bahrain. We meet in the lobby, settle our hotel bill, and are ushered into a dark SUV. For the first time, I notice our friendly security guy Steve using a mirror on a stick to check under our car for bombs.

We drive to the "military side" of Kuwait International Airport. That means driving through lots of concrete barriers to a big open tarmac with lots of security signs and one special sign warning not only against taking photographs, but also against "drawing or any graphical representation." No sketching!

There's a waiting room that, like the majority of buildings on base, is basically an air-conditioned, bathroomless trailer; a 130 degree walk is required to get to the latrines, which means you never see yourself in a mirror except when you're sweaty and pissed off. We wait. We are treated very nicely by the staff. We learn that we are going to Qatar, not Bahrain. We also learn that our 7am plane arrived at 3:30am, dropped off four passengers, thus making room for us -- and then promptly took off at 4am. No one knows why. We wait around for options. Lots of people call lots of people. Our security says, "Welcome to military organization."

Turns out we've missed the only flight to Qatar that morning. Since we all got up around 2am, we're exhausted; security takes us back to Camp Arafjan in Kuwait, where we check into the barracks, sign out sets of linens, and sleep on bunk beds in a giant open bay where the military women have strung blankets from bunk to bunk to create a bit of privacy.

We are woken up a few hours later and told we have a flight. We head back to the same airport (NO DRAWING!), get our luggage scanned, and are driven across the tarmac to a tiny, tiny plane. It's about 127 degrees out; standing directly next to an airplane with the engine on, it must be 150. My entire Jen is burning. I urgently need to get on the plane, or I will cry. I start hopping back and forth like I have to go to the bathroom, which is apparently what I do when I feel like I'm in a microwave, about to explode.

Our pilots introduce themselves. Our plane is a Lear jet! And we are the only passengers! How the hell much did the government spend to deliver some jokes to our troops in Qatar?

We fly across the Persian Gulf and land in Qatar. We've left behind our handlers in Kuwait, and we have no idea who will be meeting us or where we'll be going from there. A driver arrives and we're loaded onto an ancient buses -- perhaps those actually used to take the Beatles on tour in the early sixties and kept unrepaired for authenticity's sake. They are the same buses that cart in Indian laborers to the bases two dozen at a time, a result of the privatization of war and the fact that Kuwaitis (and Qataris), in the words of our security, "don't work." Nearly everyone in these countries who ever sells you something or cleans the bathrooms you use is Indian. The Kuwaitis and Qataris are, as a result of the grand accident of nature that gave them oil, repellently arrogant.

We're taken to the Immigration station at Al Udeid Airbase, where we have to leave our luggage outside and sit for a long time in a large open bay with chairs arranged in neat rows. A plane of airmen has just come in, some of them a bit sexy in their flight suits, and they are in line ahead of us. I notice a few large posters and wall hangings -- one of them even made of a bedsheet -- with messages like "MADISON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL SUPPORTS OUR TROOPS," and scribbled signatures all around. I think how snide I've been in the past -- I may have been party to such a project in elementary school, and what an obvious and sentimental thing to make, and who would want it? I'd never put such a thing in my house. But in a cold, open metal bay, dust in the air, the whole base a speck in the middle of a painfully uninhabitable desert, a bedsheet full of children's signatures is the sweetest thing imaginable.

I fall asleep in a chair and am woken by an Air Force woman who informs me that I need to cover my arms: "It's Qatari law." I stumble outside to my suitcase for a jacket. When we finally sign our immigration paperwork, I see that among the items prohibited by Qatari law is "Pornography (including swimsuit, muscle, and fitness magazines)." I think of the chiseled abs of the model on the cover of the Muscle & Fitness Hers in my backpack. My luggage goes through Customs without incident. We're on Al Udeid Airbase.

We'd originally been told we wouldn't have to do shows on the same day as our travel, but sometime on that day before we boarded the Lear jet, someone asked "Hey, would you do a show tonight at 20:30?" Of course! we replied. Later I remarked that, if you'd told us we had to do a show on zero sleep after being jerked around on flights, we'd have complained; if you ask us, though, we immediately step up to the call of duty. We're easily swayed!

The show was our first indoor show. We arrived just in time -- the audience was already seated and applauded as we entered the auditorium and ran up the side stairs, carrying backpacks, to backstage. After the show, we just sat down on the edge of the stage to sign photos. It was informal and felt organic.

We were shown to our tent. After Kuwait, we were itching for a more "military" experience, but this was the worst night of sleep of my life.

More soon -- I've just done my second show in Qatar at As Sayliyah Army base, I've been blogging from backstage, and it's time for a meet & greet.

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Mideast tour: feeling nostalgic for black dudes

We had a day off in between Kuwait and Qatar, and we were forbidden to leave the hotel "complex," meaning the hotel and the attached shopping mall.

After seeing a multitude of men in dishdashas and women in burqas, I was on the down escalator and spotted, on the up escalator, a totally normal black guy wearing a baseball cap and Bluetooth earpiece!

I gave him this look like "Hi!!!! Don't I know you from ... America?"

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August 28, 2007

Mideast tour: Four Comedians See Some Camels



A candid video featuring fellow comics Laura Rosenberg, Christina Lopez, and Chris Freeman.

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Mideast tour: scenes from a mall

Attached to the Kuwait Swiss-Belhotel is a shopping mall. This morning, that shopping mall was mostly full of Indian and East Asian vendors. This evening, it is totally full of women in burqas.

I really wanted to take a picture of a woman in a burqa buying something from Burger King, but I'm not sure my camera's 2 GB memory card has enough space for an entire human soul.

Literally half of the stores in the mall are shoe stores, and twenty-five percent of those shoes are metallic. Because if you wear a burqa all day, what's the most important part of your outfit? That's right. Gold hooker shoes!

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Mideast tour: a related note from Molly Crabapple, who wandered around Morocco alone as a teenager

"In Arabic, the word for alone is the same as the word for lonely. Fatima Mernissi, a Moroccan feminist writer, said that freedom seemed synonymous with the nuclear family, which removed women from the dictatorship of their mothers-in-law and allowed romance between spouses. I wonder what Western feminists would make of that."

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August 27, 2007

Mideast tour: A Brief List

Items I have been asked by members of the US military to autograph:
  • several camo Army hats
  • one t-shirt
  • two guitars
  • one fresh tattoo
  • one Marine pectoral muscle

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August 26, 2007

Mideast tour: Camp Buehring, Kuwait


We've been seeing a lot of this.


These are the result of a government contract. They are not as popular as McDonald's. Soldiers who sleep in tents and have to relieve themselves in porta-potties nevertheless have access to Chicken McNuggets and Frappucinos. Those are some strange priorities.


Autograph and photo session after the show.


More of the same. Soldiers who are just passing through often don't have a place to put their guns, and are thus required to carry them at all times. Including to comedy shows, and chow. The dining halls have signs about where to point your muzzle when you sit down to eat.


Signing hats! Wrote lots of "Stay safe!"


Someone had me sign an Iranian bill. The guy was sending autographed foreign money to his kids, kind of a 2-for-1 souvenir. Kid Rock had come through and signed an Iraqi bill for him.



We shot M-16s in a simulation exercise.


You really do have to reload these things all the freaking time. You might kind of think that the most powerful military in the world would magically have shoot-'em-up guns like in the movies, guns that never have to be reloaded unless it's a crucial plot moment for the hero, but real guns don't work that way. You have to carry lots of magazine clips and people shoot at you while you are reloading and the gun is really heavy after the first five minutes.


I really try not to be the kind of person who worries about how her ass looks when trying to shoot simulated terrorists.


Here's an example of the targets at which we were shooting. This was one of the live-action simulations that also tested you on ethics, as opposed to the video-game style ones in which you are supposed to shoot anything that moves.


Anthony is a Naval dentist who was helping out with the tour. He took the shooting photos above.

As comics, it's important to keep in mind the mood of our audience; sometimes it's a holiday show, or it's a Friday night and people are happy to be chilling after work, or it's a blizzard outside and the few people there really, really wanted to be at the show. Or whatever.

Some of the camps in Kuwait are used primarily for training, and some as waystations and supply stations on the way to and from Iraq. Buehring has few permanent troops; for most soldiers, it's a first stop in the Mideast before being shipped off to one's real destination.

In brief: an audience leaving for Iraq in the morning laughs less.

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Mideast tour: video from a Kuwaiti Starbucks

Mideast tour: you do not know the meaning of "hot"

I'm online right now in the USO tent at Camp Virginia, Kuwait. I'll post more photos when I get back to my own computer, but you might be interested in Chris Freeman's tour coverage here.

We've been averaging 600-700 people per show, and 126 degrees during the day. I have been given a Marine hat, which I'm totally wearing all the time when I get back to Williamsburg.

All of the bases have either a Starbucks or a Cool Beans coffee, which seems lovely and comforting. Except that they are in trailers, air-conditioned to about 97 degrees, which when you first step in seems like a humane temperature -- fully 20-30 degrees cooler than outside -- until you sit down with your coffee and realize that you probably shouldn't be drinking caffeine in 97 degree heat, much less 125 degree heat.

One Lieutenant Commander described the heat as "like putting your head in an oven and getting a bucket of sand thrown in your face."

I would describe it like this: You know the uncomfortable feeling of blow-drying your hair on a hot summer day? Now imagine blow-drying your entire body, for perhaps 20 minutes solid. Imagine the skin on your face tightening and drying up. You think you're not sweating, but then you realize that you think that because every inch of skin on your entire body is sweating at once, so you haven't noticed. Yesterday, it was 126, and Laura and I had our jewelry melt onto our skin.

Next time you blowdry, point that thing into your face, and then your armpits, and think of me. Or, you know, of the troops. Obviously.

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Mideast tour: my powers of inference know no match!

Had a great show at Camp Ali Al-Salem, but they've kept us too busy for me to have much time to post. Here's a little something for now:


This is a sticker on my hotel room nightstand.
I'm pretty sure this is to tell you which way to pray.

Interestingly, the toilet also faces in the direction of Mecca, which I always thought was a no-no.

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August 24, 2007

Mideast tour: serious things, and vegetable things, and another 120 degree day on which I could feel my lips sunburning through my lipstick

For new readers: I am currently on an Armed Forces Entertainment tour of the Middle East, beginning in Kuwait, with three other comics.

Camp Beuhring, 15 miles south of the Iraqi border, is many tents and some number of utterly flat, mostly bathroomless buildings in the absolute middle of nowhere, an hour's drive through terribly empty desert. The idea of being stranded there -- either literally, through some roadside accident, or simply in the sense of being stationed there for some months -- was terrifying. All the water is trucked in; the very fact of having water and being able to survive on such a patch of land seemed obviously unnatural.

Beuhring is a training camp, mostly -- a waystation for new troops on their way to Iraq. The audience was a little quiet; afterwards, an officer explained that most of the guys in the audience are shipping off to Iraq tomorrow, and "20-30 of them are going to get blown up just getting there. Their minds are elsewhere." There's nothing to say to that. As alcohol is illegal in Kuwait, our audience was sober in both senses of the word.

We were treated to a tour of a tent-based clinic in which we observed materials for the treatment of both scorpion bites and chlamydia, a dental office, and most enjoyably the shooting range, in which we shot M-16s in simulation exercises. A Naval dentist named Anthony took charge of my camera and took many photos while I shot baddies in video-game-like desert and then night-vision exercises, and then in a very different exercise called "SHOOT OR DON'T SHOOT," in which you watch a narrated scenario in which live actors portray a situation in which you, the shooter, are at risk of shooting innocent people, or inappropriately shooting a bad guy before he has drawn a weapon. When you do such a thing -- shoot someone who has merely punched someone else, or yelled in Arabic -- the exercise stops and flashes the words "DEFEND YOUR ACTIONS."

After the show, we went right back to the airport (three nights in a row there!) to finally get Christina's luggage. And we saw a corn stand! Some months ago, the Intrepid Young Journalist had happened to mention that, during his time in Lebanon, corn was impossible to avoid. "The Lebanese will put it on anything -- pizza, sandwiches, hamburgers. You have to specify: NO CORN." It seems the phenomenon extends to Kuwait. We each bought a cup of corn. It was really just corn. It had butter, salt and pepper, and lemon juice, but seriously, people were lining up for corn. At a place called ... "Mr. Corn." The Mr. Corn stand also sold nachos (i.e., corn chips) and "corn smoothies," but everyone just seemed to be getting corn. Laura said she'd line up for really any "single-vegetable stand."


One of our security guys loosened up and started telling us that lots of Kuwaiti guys have gay sex but are married to women and don't think of themselves as gay. I pointed out that -- from ancient Greece to modern-day South America -- that actually is pretty much the global norm. Christina saw men holding hands and kissing, even there at the airport (which isn't always indicative of a sexual relationship, but clearly sometimes is).

Also on the sociocultural front, I've been talking about Christopher Hitchens fairly well nonstop, as things he's said about Islam keep coming up, and Christina just mentioned she saw Hitchens' new book "god is Not Great" on sale at the PX, which makes me happy, as it balances out the giant wall of religious pamphlets provided in Beuhring's recreation room. Sure, that makes religion free and atheism a thing that must be paid for, but then again, people more appreciate things that cost. Which makes this post come kind of full-circle.

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Mideast tour: a bunch of Kuwait!

Today I did the following:
  • Asked employees at the Swiss-Belhotel Kuwait where the fitness center was, and kept getting directed to breakfast instead. Finally the word "gym" worked, but the gym consisted of plastic, home-quality cardio machines, 4 of the 6 of which were non-operable, and all of which contained a logo reading "AS SEEN ON TV!" Did 20 minutes on a rickety bike and gave up.

  • Ate a delicious complimentary hotel breakfast of falafel, hummus, foul mudamas, fried cauliflower, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes with cheese, chicken sausage, fruit salad, dates, figs, nuts, and halvah. Okay, I didn't personally eat all of those things; some were my roommate Christina Lopez's. But it was awesome. All the coffee here is hardcore.




  • Attempted to order an iced coffee at Starbucks. Although the Starbucks looks EXACTLY like an American Starbucks -- and it was 113 degrees outside -- there is no iced coffee. (There are many iced Frappucino beverages, but no cooler of pre-made iced coffee). After receiving a hot coffee and explaining the mistake, the guy made me an iced Americano, which was fantastic. Christina wanted to take pictures of herself in the Starbucks in a veil and clown nose. An old Kuwaiti businessman was very amused and wanted to take pictures with us. I signed my first autograph of the day, to Ahid.


  • Went to the base, nearly died (specifically of a medical condition called "melting") walking across a gravel lot between two buildings -- I had no idea such heat was possible. Ate some perfectly nice food in the dining hall; Laura Rosenberg and I agreed that it was much like college. As I reached into a case to get a bottle of water, one dude at a whole table of Army dudes asked "Are you going to be funny tonight?" I turned and said "I'm sure as fuck gonna try."

  • We weren't allowed to take photos on base, but there was a kind of amazing sign that said "WE NEED LEADERSHIP NOT LIKERSHIP."

  • Was presented with a certificate and commemorative coin-item by one Commander Gant at our "briefing." Posed for photos.



  • Went to PX, got some Kuwaiti Dinars from the ATM, bought a gorgeous scarf, then got so many compliments on it I went back and bought more. The Kuwaiti vendor demonstrated on himself how the scarves could be tied as sarongs and beach coverups. I wanted to film him doing this, but felt it would be exploitative. Instead shot silly videos populated entirely by Americans.




  • Was driven out to the part of the base that's all tents and porta-potties. Hung out in air-conditioned trailer behind the stage for four hours. Developed heat exhaustion, which was not made better by the fact that every trip to the bathroom required a 40-yard, 113-degree walk across hot gravel. Have put great wear and tear on my new patent-leather flats.



  • The comedy show went down at 1900, on a big outdoor stage in front of some bleachers. Alcohol is illegal in Kuwait, even on base, but it was a great crowd despite their being entirely sober. Did my new material about the Pentagon censoring our political jokes, and my wanting to keep the censor on his feet ("You know what I think about the Surge? ...That drink is better than Mountain Dew!")


  • Was ushered off to the gym for the autograph- and photo session. Signed autographs til I ran out of photos. Notable meetings included one guy who went to my high school (Cox class of '90), one guy who wanted a photo signed to his wife, who reads my blog, and one guy who'd read me on McSweeney's before the show was even advertised. Oh, and one of the guys from the dining hall to whom I had said "Sure as fuck gonna try."

  • The officer leading us around -- whom we were encouraged to call simply "Gunner" -- allowed me to head over, in my high heels, to the pull-up bar. He thought I was joking about wanting to slam out a few pull-ups. After I did seven, he told me that even female Marines don't have to do that, that most woman "aren't built to be able to lift themselves," and that the standard for female Marines is a 70-second flexed arm hang. So I got back on the bar and did a 70-second flexed-arm hang. I am now qualified to be a female Marine at least twice over.


  • Then we all went to the Kuwait International Airport (see airport Harley Davidson outlet above) where my roommate tried to track down her lost luggage. I ate some mixed grill at the airport, although I could've had KFC, Fuddruckers, or a variety of other Western items. I saw a woman in niqab (the veil that leaves only the eyes showing) eating with her husband, using one hand to hold the veil up a bit while she spooned food into her mouth with the other hand. Wouldn't want to expose that chin while eating!
I took pictures of many of these things, but it's time to meet our handlers downstairs in and head to another base for the day.

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August 22, 2007

Mideast tour: large corporations have made Kuwait look much like everywhere else

The theme for me so far in Kuwait is how much megacorporations have homogenized the entire world.

There was, of course, a McDonald's at the airport. And a Starbucks, and even a Claire's (see previous post on this little-girl jewelry store).

There was a Nathan's! Just like Coney Island. Although it is kind of funny to get a "kosher beef" frank in Kuwait.

Here's a KFC.

Next to the "nonalcoholic malt beverage" from the minibar are two sodas that, despite their Arabic lettering, are effortlessly recognizable by any Westerner.

New Yorkers like to make fun of tourists who come all the way to the city just to eat at the Times Square Red Lobster (where no New Yorker would ever set foot). Apparently it is possible to do this throughout the rest of the world.

I'm headed onto the base today to do my first show in Kuwait. Pictures tonight, my loves! (Here's an Arabic Circuit City, and here's an Arabic Gap, and here's an Arabic Hardee's...)

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Mideast tour: I am in Kuwait!

I am in the Swiss Belhotel Plaza in Kuwait -- and, in fact, forbidden to leave the "compound." Alcohol is entirely illegal in this country; my minibar containes sodas and Toblerone.

That's fellow comics Chris and Laura on their way down the stairs.

Eh, looks pretty much like JFK.

Except for this.

Favorite picture EVER.

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August 15, 2007

in case you're wondering why I'm not en route to Riyadh

The Pentagon has delayed our departure for the Mideast tour. First due to Saudi security concerns, and then again for no official reason.


The Pentagon only gives orders. Not reasons.

- Jen, at home

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August 11, 2007

Jen's Mideast Tour!

In case any of you thought my previous mentions of "Iraq" were a joke: they are not! I have an airline ticket to Frankfurt, and then Bahrain, and then Saudi Arabia, and so on and so forth. Lufthansa says so, and so does the Pentagon.

I am going on a Mideast tour, to entertain the troops, along with fellow comics Laura Rosenberg, Christina Lopez, and Chris Freeman. We shall be meeting up in Frankfurt, where I will exchange my hotpants for some kind of voluminous skirt before arriving in Riyadh.

If you are a member of the US military deployed in the Mideast and somehow viewing JenIsFamous through the firewall -- which would really make you some kind of incredible, porn-seeking computer hacker -- here is where you can see me:


August 17
Show in Saudi Arabia, Eskon Village


This is a badass flag. It has a sword on it. A sword for slaying infidels. I can't wait to secretly swear and blog about feminism from Saudi Arabia.

August 20-23
Shows in Iraq, Location TBD


This is the Iraqi flag. If you squint, the Arabic character second from left looks a little like an illustrated high heel from the cover of a Candace Bushnell novel.

August 25-27
Shows in Kuwait, Location TBD


Kuwait's flag looks a little like Italy's, but with a big black trapezoid. This reminds me of both pasta and geometry.

August 29
Show in Qatar, Auab

August 30
Show in Qatar, Assayliaha


This flag has teeth. And not much else.

September 1
Show in Djibouti, CP Lemonier


Djibouti is in Africa, and is also an Islamic nation, located right across the water from Saudi Arabia. Temperatures are expected to be well over a hundred. Plus, there are hot winds! There is nothing comical about this flag.

September 3-4
Shows in Bahrain, Location TBD


Look familiar? It's Qatar, with fewer teeth. Bahrain is a tiny island off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It is wealthy, hip, contains Michael Jackson's mansion, and is also where Saudis go to dance and screw.

That's it! Don't these guys look ready to laugh?



Hmmn -- maybe I'll tell my angry jokes.



Grr!

Maybe I should've had some pictures taken like this:



Except that I am incapable of smiling in a non-sarcastic way. And for some other reasons. But whatever.



Grr again!

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