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Opinion and Insight

What I Learnt from Shooting a Comedy Documentary in a War Zone

Commercial veteran and Co-Founder of Superlounge, Jordan Brady, reveals the unique challenges and life-changing experience of making his latest feature I AM BATTLE COMIC

What I Learnt from Shooting a Comedy Documentary in a War Zone

Imagine this: It’s 100 degrees. You’re miles from any towns or cities. The room is filled with sober people, each holding an automatic weapon. Your job? Simple. Make them laugh. 

This is the situation that Jordan Brady found himself in last year. It was no ordinary comedy gig. He travelled to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait with a group of ‘battle comics’ - comedians on a mission to provide laughter for the U.S troops stationed in war zones. His most ambitious and challenging project to date, it turned out to be a life-changing experience.

Now a full-time filmmaker and commercial director with over 1000 national TV spots and several feature films to his name, Jordan initially cut his teeth as a professional stand-up comedian for 15 years. He explores what it means to be a comedian in his ‘I AM COMIC’ documentary series - of which I AM BATTLE COMIC is the third and final instalment. 

While war and comedy may not immediately seem like a natural fit, there’s a rich history of comedians such as Bob Hope and Robin Williams performing stand-up for troops on the frontline. Its purpose goes far deeper than entertainment, as Jordan soon found out:

“It can save lives,” he comments. “It sounds dramatic but it only really sunk in when a staff sergeant explained the situation to us. These men and women getting fired at daily, some have lost a buddy, and they’re missing their families really bad. Some are even thinking of taking their own lives. So, if we, as comedians, could take their minds off what they were facing for one moment through laughter, then that was just one small way that we could give back.”


Finding the right balance between the weighty realities of war and documenting the comedy proved to be a tricky creative challenge, and one that carried well into the edit room and the first cut. Jordan not only directed, but shot, edited, produced, and funded the entire project. 

Jordan comments: “It was my wife [a documentary filmmaker] who helped me realize that the two needed to be presented together from the outset. The seriousness of the war gives context to why these comedians give a shit. You see the laughs but you also have to remind everyone that this is a very real situation.”

In an early scene, a battle comic tells of a young soldier - his biggest fan - who was killed in action. In a candid interview with George Lopez, the comedian and actor sheds tears for a whole unit he met that perished. World events that occurred during filming, such as the bombing in Brussels, also informed the edit and served as a grave reminder of current unrest. 

Jordan performing for the troops

As a one-man crew, the project was a huge undertaking. Aside from the obvious safety risks of being in a war zone, Jordan faced a myriad of production challenges without the usual facilities or equipment at hand. Going from base to base daily with the battle comics, he worked off a tight schedule: shooting four to five back-to-back 90 minute ‘meet and greet’ sessions per day, which were immediately followed by 30 minutes to prepare himself, before performing in front of the military audience. 

Describing the demanding process, Jordan says: “I adopted an on-the-fly technique because I knew that it would all have to be captured in one take. I had a short window to shoot the setting, interview, mic people, and try to find natural light - so it was hugely time-pressured. The other challenge was performing as the opening act to each show after my 22-year hiatus from comedy! That’s not to mention, coming up with new material every day. That was truly nerve-wracking.”

                              Promotional poster created by Doner Advertising

Last month - one year after the life-changing experience - Jordan was joined by heavy-hitters from the advertising community in packed out theatres across the USA, where I AM BATTLE COMIC premiered. The series of benefit screenings were each held in a different city and moderated by an ad industry heavyweight. 100% of the proceeds are being dedicated to charities such as National Military Family Association, Operation Gratitude, Semper Fi Fund that support troops and their families throughout and after their service. 

“The support of the advertising community has been overwhelming” comments Jordan. “Creatives and producers came out in droves and so far, we’ve managed to raise a whopping $22,000 for charity – not bad for an indie documentary! It was great to see so many familiar faces from brands and agencies coming together. Fender was superb in donating five brand-spanking new guitars to be auctioned off in every city.”

Jordan auctioning off the Fender guitars

So, what did adland think?

Detroit 

Chuck Meehan, EVP & ECD of Doner Advertising (Moderator): “It’s a rare thing when you can mix comedy with altruism. This movie and event raised awareness for what our military goes through and for the organizations that support them. A big thanks to Jordan and the comedians that give their time and service to our armed forces.” 

                               Chuck Meehan (left) with Jordan Brady (right)

Marc Henretta, Head of Jeep Retail Advertising: “It was a night that touched your head, your heart and your funny bone. If laughter truly is the best medicine, then the comedians in I AM BATTLE COMIC are the best doctors around.”

Dallas

Kevin Sutton, ECD of Moroch (Moderator): “More than the miles traveled and the hostile borders crossed that standup comics must maneuver to entertain the troops overseas, Jordan’s moving documentary navigates richer territory—the gamut of human emotions from laughter to sadness to warmth to poignancy experienced by both the soldiers being entertained and the comedians doing the entertaining.”

Los Angeles

David Angelo, Founder and Chairman of David&Goliath and Founder of nonprofit, Today, I’m Brave (Moderator): "I was deeply moved to be a part of such an extraordinary night honoring the brave men and women who serve. I also want to applaud Jordon and his talented cast of comedians who traveled to foreign and often dangerous lands to share their heart and humor making a lasting impact on these soldiers through laughter. So inspiring. As the son of a highly-decorated Marine who fought in the Korean War, this was a personal night for me. I am forever thankful for our service men and women who keep us safe, all the comedians past and present who gave our soldiers a sense of normalcy and for those who support our troops by volunteering, raising funds or simply saying thank you. Trust me, it all goes a long way.”  

I AM BATTLE COMIC will be released August 8th 2017 and distributed by Monterey Media.

David Angelo (far left) moderating the LA screening

Genre: Action , Comedy , Documentary , Experiential , People , Strategy/Insight