Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The USO Tour Comes To Town

Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams entertains the troops at KAF.
The day after we were visited by the Slovakian President, we had some more visitors--this time entertainers who were part of a USO tour. I'm a big fan of the USO--my first experience with them was on my way to basic training when I had a layover at the St. Louis airport and found the USO station there. They provided military personnel with a comfortable place to rest, watch television, and have free food and beverages. Last year when I was stranded for nearly two days in Philadelphia due to heavy snow, the USO made hanging out at the airport much easier, especially with the easy access to e-mail so I could notify family and friends what was happening.
But, back to the main story. This tour had a group of celebrities and entertainers who were traveling around various bases in Iraq and Afghanistan performing for the troops and showing their appreciation. The opening remarks of the show were provided by Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (the highest-ranking military officer and senior military advisor to the President), and his wife. They introduced the MC for the evening, cycling superstar Lance Armstrong. He is one of the most inspiring figures in sports in recent years, having overcome cancer to win seven Tours de France, the only cyclist to have done so, and his Livestrong foundation has done much to promote cancer treatments and research. He gave some short introductory comments, talking about running along the fenceline and ignoring various warning signs about restricted areas along the gravel road. He then introduced the first performer, comedian Kathleen Madigan. She was very funny, and like pretty much everyone else (except ADM and Mrs. Mullen) too blue for network television. She gave a shout out to the Canadians in the audience, observing that most Americans think of Canada the way they think of the attic--"you forget it's up there, but then you look and realize there's some pretty cool (stuff)." She also wondered, after hearing about the schools and roads and utilities that are being built by the military, what it would take for us to invade and rebuild the city of Detroit.
She was followed by Lewis Black, introduced by Armstrong as the "most negative man in America." He corrected the intro, saying that he isn't negative, just angry. The famously jittery comedian opined on how an iPhone is a "great computer and a lousy phone," and a Droid is "a great phone and a lousy computer," and told of his first USO tour, where someone made the extremely poor decision to put him on the program following Vince Gill and Amy Grant. (As a Nashville resident, I found that story very amusing.)
Speaking of Nashville, my hometown was represented by Kix Brooks, formerly half of mega-country duo Brooks & Dunn, and songwriter Bob DiPiero, who though not famous as a performer, has written about fifteen number one songs, including songs for Martina McBride, B & D, Faith Hill, and Montgomery Gentry. He's actually a pretty good performer, too, and sang his songs "Church on Cumberland Road" and "Gone." Brooks added two of his biggest hits, "Red Dirt Road" and "Only In America." Then it was time for the main event.
The final performer of the evening was one of the world's funniest men, Oscar-winning actor and stand-up comedian Robin Williams. Despite recently having a heart valve replacement, he was as energetic as ever, bouncing around the stage in a sweatsuit and a full beard. (He'd make a funny Santa Claus, Hollywood.) I made the mistake of not waiting around after the show, but a couple of the guys in the band did stay and said he made sure to sign anything and shake every hand he could. He's been described as our "number one fan," and I certainly gained a new level of respect for his dedication. His show was, of course, hysterically funny, and I won't say much more about it other than to mention that he did an impression of his character "Mrs. Doubtfire" as if she were a porn star.
All in all, it was a fun evening and definitely a nice change of pace for us. Even in the cold air, it seemed everyone had a good time. Just don't tell Lewis Black that I have an iPhone.

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