By Seamus Gallivan
Tonight in Rockwell Hall on the campus of Buffalo State College (1300 Elmwood Ave, 7pm, ), alumnus and decorated Army war veteran Thom Tran comes home with a couple comrades in comedy – one a fellow Buffalo native – and a plan to film and deliver a special to soldiers serving around the world on behalf of his GI’s of Comedy.
Tonight’s filming pairs Tran’s hand-picked film crew in from his current home of Los Angeles with Buff State faculty and students, who will prepare a DVD featuring the three GI’s – Tran, Buffalo native Tom Irwin, and Jose Sarduy – that they are in talks to turn into a network special and have an ongoing campaign to deliver 20,000 copies to troops as part of what Tran has termed, “the healing therapy of humor.” He spoke about this and more while relaxing in his Cheektowaga childhood home.
What inspired you to launch the GI’s of Comedy and this special?
Before I left the Army in 2005, I’d been medically retired and my job was to take care of soldiers, and when I realized couldn’t do that anymore, I wondered, what could I do? As a standup comic, I could make them laugh, which seemed like kind of a selfish endeavor on my part. After going to Afghanistan and Iraq then back to L.A., I thought it’d be great if me and a couple other dudes who’ve been in the military and know how these solders think and can relate to them could do so while standing in front of them at a mic, making them laugh in a way that could help take care of them.
How do you define the healing therapy of humor?
Its basic form is the most primal thing there is – you can’t fake a good belly laugh. If something touches you in a funny way, it’s almost a molecular level of emotions, something deep inside of you moving you to laugh.
In the same way, when soldiers – combat veterans, specifically – come back from any war, their souls have been irreparably changed by trauma, and all these therapies and doctors trying to fix the soldier aren’t working, because they’re not reaching them on a molecular, primal level. They’re not getting to root of the PTSD that has scarred their soul. I feel like comedy in its basic form can touch people on a molecular level in the same way that combat trauma does. Comedy is healing.
Right? I know, you don’t expect that out of me. When I first thought that, I was like, “Whoa, did that just come out of me?!”
Sounds like that was a destiny moment, is that right?
Yeah, absolutely. We all have our own individual careers – Jose is an Air Force pilot and also an actor, hosting a television show; Tom is a father of two and has a great business in L.A.; and I’m a writer and a military consultant. But this tour, being the labor of love that it is – you can ask my fiancée, it has sucked up my life. This is definitely a trial by fire for me, but I’m confident that the crew we brought in from Hollywood and the crew from Buff State will make this pretty damn good.
What motivated you to do this at Buff State?
Being an alum from Buff State, I can say that the staff and faculty are top notch – I trust them. This is my baby, and if I had reservations I would bring in a full staff from Hollywood, but I’m confident that the folks we have involved will put out a good product. And as an alum, I wanna give students this opportunity, to say, “Hey, I already have an IMDB credit,” to have that professional product out there, before they even graduate.
We also have local sponsors donating tickets to the National Guard and Air Force Reserve in Niagara Falls. I went to local businesses like Anderson’s – whose roast beef I adore and miss like my mother’s cooking – as well as Alessi Gun Holsters.
Can you set the stage for the event, what to expect?
Here’s the thing about GIs of comedy – we’re not a show, we’re an event. Comedy shows, people expect the comic to come out with a beer and tell jokes. We have a soldier singing the anthem; rock music, an audio/visual presentation; and we have damn good comedy. But it’s not just your average, walk into a comedy club in a dark room in a basement somewhere. Expect pride and apple pie and America – the band, not the country – no…it’s the lights, sound – it’s a rock n’ roll show with jokes.