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When I catch up with Rooftop comedian Nathan Timmel, he’s in the middle of a tour, camped out in a comedy condo in Shreveport, LA, that’s so new, it doesn’t have Internet access yet.

Most people who spend their professional lives traveling without their loved ones would be freaking out over the lack of virtual access (I myself would probably be banging my fists against all available flat surfaces, weeping and convulsing and screaming things like, “Fucking fuck fuck FUUUUUUCK!” Not that it’s, ahem, actually happened.), but Timmel doesn’t mind. He’s been in much more isolated conditions.

Timmel has traveled overseas eight times for military shows, performing for American troops who are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait. On his last tour, in Iraq, Timmel made a simple video that has made a deep emotional impact on the friends and families of American soldiers, so much so that it’s been posted and reposted all over the Internet – on Facebook, on YouTube, on military websites.

I was honored to take a break from writing Twitter updates and screening clips of fart jokes, to hear Timmel’s tales from the trenches.

ROOFTOP: How did you end up doing these military shows in the first place?

NATHAN TIMMEL: My first trip overseas happened as almost everything in life happens; it was truly accidental. I was did a show in L.A. and a guy approached me afterward, asked if I had ever done a tour, and I said no, but that I’d like to. He told me to email this woman and drop his name. So I did, and I was booked to go to Japan. I found out later that he was her [the woman who booked me] brother. It was a complete accident.

I had so much fun on the first tour, I started looking up shows to do in Iraq, in Afghanistan. It was one of those weird things where if you don’t have experience with military shows, they don’t want you. But you can’t get experience unless they want you. I was lucky, I was able to call bookers and tell them I had overseas experience, so I ended up going to the Middle East.

ROOFTOP COMEDY: How did the experience compare to how you’d initially imagined it?

NATHAN TIMMEL: I didn’t have any preconceptions going in, no ideas of what it would be like. The differences between being in Japan and and in Iraq are hilarious when you get over the initial letdown, because when you to Iraq it’s phenomenal. It’s embarrassing. The troops are stuck there, there’s nothing to do. They can’t leave the base, can’t do anything. So, when you show up, you’re a huge event. You feel embarrassed by the magnitude of it.

In Japan, there are 18-year-old kids who can leave the base, go out drinking, get prostitutes. So when they hear there’s a comedy show, they don’t care. So when you get there, half the shows are cancelled, or there are two people there, because everyone’s out banging prostitutes. But, when you go to a place like Iraq, you mean the world to them.

ROOFTOP: Where did you stay while in the Middle East? Did you feel safe?

NATHAN TIMMEL: I stayed all over. The first time I went I did three shows a day. We’d hop on a Blackhawk, to fly from base to base to base; do a 10 am show, then a 2 pm show, and a 7 pm show. Sometimes, we’d get trapped by a sandstorm for a couple of days and couldn’t fly out. When that happens, the whole country looks like Mars.

I personally never felt like going home. I know there were a couple other comics on tour who through it was too much. And my wife isn’t always happy about it, but she remembers three things; One, that she knew what she was getting into when she met and married me; Two, she understands what an honor it is for me to get to perform for troops; and three, for me to say no to a tour is disrespectful to the people who do more for this country than I do. And, as a military entertainer, you are treated so well.

I was never a big huge flag-waving “America, fuck yeah!” kind of guy, until I went to Iraq for the first time and saw people for whom protecting the country is their life. And that made me more aware of what people are sacrificing when they put on the uniform.

ROOFTOP: How did you get the idea for the “Hi Mom” video?

NATHAN TIMMEL: The day before I left for Iraq, my wife and I were in Target and walked past the office supplies aisle.  I looked down the aisle and saw the poster boards and I knew exactly what I would do. There was no grand scheme, I just wrote the “Hi Mom” sign and carried it with me everywhere I went.

The fiancé of one of the soldiers in the video saw it and reached out to me.   She said they try and talk on Skype but the connection is shitty, and the video of him waving hi, for a split second, was the most she’s seen of him in four months, and when she saw him, she broke out in tears.

And Jesus Christ. I never imagined in a second that it would be touching to people. It’s well beyond the scope of what I planned. It apparently struck people on a much deeper level than what I’d intended. And I’m glad I was able to touch people, or the video was able to. I feel humbled by my experiences overseas. I’m just a guy telling jokes.


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Time: October 9, 2009, 6:35 am

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