Retired Army Sgt. Joe Kashnow is featured in the documentary 'Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.' (Courtesy of Comedy Warriors)
When military doctors told Army cavalry scout Sgt. Joe Kashnow they were going to cut off his leg after a roadside blast in Iraq, he wanted them to promise one thing.
“When I get my prosthetic,” he told them, “I want it to have a secret cookie compartment.”
They didn’t get the joke. When a psychiatric team paraded through his room trying figure out what was wrong with him, he said, “I’m trying to use humor to get through the worst situation I’ve ever been in.”
Kashnow doesn’t need to explain his jokes anymore. He’s among a squad of wounded troops profiled in the recent Showtime hit “Comedy Warriors: Healing through Humor.” Also available as a DVD or to rent online, the documentary chronicles the group of aspiring comics as they’re put through a comedy bootcamp, working with writers and coaches who include Zach Galifianakis, Bob Saget and Lewis Black of “The Daily Show.”
“It was like getting an MBA in comedy,” said Kashnow, who now performs several nights a week at comedy clubs in the Baltimore area. In fact, he’s slated to open for Black during his mid-April run at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. Military Times caught up with Kashnow as he was preparing for the gig.
Q. What inspires a guy who loses a leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq to become a stand-up comedian? Haven’t you suffered enough?
A. I wanted to be a soldier since I was 5 years old playing with GI Joes. And I’ve wanted to be a comic since I was 8 years old listening to my brother’s cassettes of Emo Philips. I just wanted to be a soldier first, because being a comic in your old age is definitely easier than being a combat arms soldier in your old age.
Q. What’s scarier, doing comedy or combat?
A. They’re both scary in their own ways. In combat, you can shoot back. In comedy, all you have are your wits. In combat, you get that adrenaline rush as soon as you’re heading into it, but in comedy, I don’t get that rush until I’ve had the first couple of laughs. That’s when I know I’ll be OK.
Q. When did you first know you were funny?
A. I had always thought I was funny. I’ve always tried to be the funny guy. When I first heard about “Comedy Warriors,” I started putting together some jokes, and I told one at my brother’s house one night with some friends. And everybody laughed. I was like, all right, this might actually turn into something. But I didn’t really know I was funny until I actually got up on stage and told jokes in front of strangers at an open-mike night at a club in Baltimore. I wound up winning the contest that night.
Q. Comedians from Chaplin to Seinfeld have said good comedy comes from pain and anger. Considering you’ve had your pain bucket filled way more than most, do you think that makes you a better comedian?
A. If comedy comes from pain, I should be hysterical all the time. Comedy certainly comes from dark times. Having been injured has given me quite a lot of material to write about. So, it’s helped with the comedy, but I don’t think it’s helped me be funnier. I use my comedy to help me get through my injury, like when I talk about the secret cookie compartment in the documentary.
Q. Some say laughter is the best medicine. Has that been true for you — does it you make you feel better? As a comic, do you feel better making other people laugh?
A. Laughter is good, but Demerol is better. When I laugh, I get that endorphin rush just like everyone else. But as a comic, when I make other people laugh at things that are painful to me, whether it’s making fun of my injury or how much fun I had overseas — in fact, I always say I had a blast — talking about it really does take some of that hurt away. At least for a little while. So, it’s medicine you keep going back to.