When Should You Tell A Missing Limb Joke?

How about when you’re a wounded warrior doing stand-up “therapy” with comics like Lewis Black, Zach Galifianakis, B.J. Novak, and Bob Saget? When I’ve written to wounded warriors in hospitals, I’ve secretly worried and wondered what was next for them. Would they have all they need to face the challenges ahead? Feel forgotten? Have a VA-delay nightmare? What about their families? I never thought to ask if trauma could be treated with laughter, even though every troop I’ve met has had a great (and often dark) sense of humor.

But I found out that an amazing group of comics did ask. They wondered about “healing through humor” and the result is a project and documentary called Comedy Warriors. It features five vets like Bobby Henline, the sole survivor of a roadside bomb who was burned over 38% of his body and lost his left hand. This man will make you laugh. And touch your heart. Meet him and the other incredible vets in this trailer:

Comedy Warriors

A slight divide

1% of the population serves in active duty. If you add all vets, the number goes up to around 6%. With that kind of math, many of us don’t know what our troops and their families endure. The military experience is unique. For the wounded, that becomes even more true when they get back to the civilian world. Wounded Warrior Project, a group that “honors and empowers wounded warriors,” has these recent battlefield figures: 6,717 deaths, 50,897 wounded, 320,000 estimated TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injury) and 400,000 estimated with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) For perspective, the current U.S. population is about 322 million.

So if you’ve been wounded, how do you explain, express or connect with those around you who may have little understanding of what you’ve been through? If you hold everything in, how do you heal? I once asked a soldier I know who has PTSD and other combat injuries, to help me understand PTSD better. I didn’t realize how hard it would be for him to respond. But in the end, sharing eased his pain a little. When I tried to picture him doing a project like this, I laughed out loud. He’s a piece of work without a microphone. I bet he’d excel at comedy therapy.

Sharing (and healing) through humor is both disarming and empowering. Fear and pain are pushed aside to create a space where military and civilian can come together. And when we’re in something together, we are all strengthened. These wounded warriors are resilient, inspiring and yeah, pretty damn funny. I would love to see the whole documentary. But I have to ask. Actually, a lot of us have to ask. In order for the film to get wider distribution, our local PBS, cable providers, and movie houses need to hear that we’re interested. I’m going to send a few emails. I hope you do too.

Did you hear the one about the wounded warrior who got the last laugh?

Imagine if we could all say, “yes!”

*Update: Bernadette Luckett, a Co-Producer on the film, told me that this was a labor of love for all involved. She also told me how they’re trying to bring Comedy Warriors to a larger audience by entering film festivals to get attention and secure a distribution deal. They’ve won top prizes in the ones they’ve been able to enter. If anyone would like to support their participation at major film festivals through a tax-deductible donation, this is their help page. 

© Gina left the mall, 2013

17 thoughts on “When Should You Tell A Missing Limb Joke?

    • Me too! When I saw the trailer I was moved and impressed by how these wounded warriors were able to do this. It’s brave to get up on stage, make yourself vulnerable and find a way to laugh. Then again, these young men and women already know a thing or two about bravery. I’m glad these comics came up with this project.

    • I couldn’t agree more. One soldier told me that it’s hard for him to feel joy and that he “just goes through the motions.” That broke my heart. But I know if he saw this film, he would laugh. And the more positive moments, the better!

  1. What a wonderful idea! Like Kris, I can’t wait to see the documentary. I think men have always found it easier to endure their hardships with laughter than tears. Most men tend toward stoicism, reluctant to show emotion, and humor has always been their chief refuge and release from tension and pain.

    • NP, I think you are totally right about humor being the chief refuge for most men (and some women) especially in the military. That’s why I think this film is so brilliant. I can’t wait to see more than 1:49 of it!

  2. I saw this movie. It was incredible that these warriors who have seen the worst that war has to offer, have themselves come out on the other side. At first you are not sure if you should even crack a smile at their jokes, but when you see it, you realize that thus us the only way they can deal with their pain, by joking about the very thing that has altered their lives in so many ways. Truly inspirational that they are able to overcome all the obstacles that stood in their way! Onward and upward for these truly exceptional warriors!

    • Jeanne,
      I had that same feeling even just reading about this film; I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or not. But when I saw these warriors in the trailer, I decided to follow their lead. When I lost my apprehension, it was replaced with inspiration. It really is amazing what they’ve overcome. I am so happy they still, “have themselves.” I hope this film was a kick-off to many wonderful things for them. I also hope I get to see it soon!

  3. Thank you for supporting and writing about the film! I am one of the 5 and was 8 months pregnant during our last performance in L.A. The healing process I have had through this film has been remarkable. I thought I was “healed” until I learned to take my anger about my injury and got to turn it into laughs on stage. I know I can speak for the 5 of us in saying that we want wider distribution to encourage any other vet who is struggling.

    • Darisse,
      It is an honor and a pleasure to (virtually) meet you! To see what the 5 of you have overcome is incredibly inspiring. And the laughter? Completely unexpected. I just never thought about healing in this way.

      I am happy to help spread the word about Comedy Warriors. And even though I only saw 1:49 of the film, I had the feeling it would help other vets who are struggling. I don’t know if Bernadette already reached out to the Army Warrior Transition Command, but I sent this to them. Mind you, I don’t know anyone there. Or have your “stalking” skills (I read your bio.) I just sent emails to them and a few civilians I thought might help. Just hoping to get it on their radar.

      Thank you again for being part of this and thank you for your service. Oh, and congrats on your baby boy!!

      • Hi! I just found out about this on Facebook. What a wonderful idea for helping some wonderful people!

        I used to live in Colorado, passing Dave Roever’s Eagles Summit Ranch on my way to and from work about 2 miles beyond his place. He is a Wounded Warrior, works with other Wounded Warriors, and I bet would be happy to work with or promote your group. He does week-long motivational, counseling, and public-speaking classes with WWs, and my friend helps make quilts for each of the graduates. (She’s gotten several of the local quilt clubs to donate, and even gets quilts sent by women in Minnesota and elsewhere! Her husband is a Vietnam Vet; my husband & I served in the Navy right after that, ’74-78, meeting in Gitmo.)

        We vets have to stick together and help each other! War-time or peace-time service, we’re all brothers and sisters in arms! I will be happy to promote your film and work on our website, http://www.flickennel.com.

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