The Armed Forces served as training grounds for funny careers.
The other day as the little lady and I were watching TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (season 14), we found ourselves rooting for Randy Bell, a line cook from Nashville, Tennessee. Randy served 25 years and retired from U.S. Army. Since he was not a cook while in the Army, he is the underdog as he has the least experience when it comes to the culinary arts. However, when it comes to beating the odds, I believe you can always trust a veteran to come through and make an impact. Although the wife and I have little time for television, we are going to follow season 14 and root for Randy. At any rate, after the show, I got on the computer and began searching for celebrities who served in the U.S. military. Many names popped up that surprised me. Of particular note were the comedians. A lot has been said about comedians masking their anger with comedy. This week, we’ll take a peek at celebrity comedians who served in the military.
Brooks (in the Jeep above) is famous for such movie blockbusters as “Blazing Saddles, “Young Frankenstein,” “The Producers,” and “Spaceballs.” Things weren’t always easy for Mel. When he was two years old his father died of kidney disease. As a youth, Brooks was a sickly little rascal who was often bullied. He took up with famous drummer, Buddy Rich who taught the kid how to play the drums. Brooks began playing the drums for money at age 14. While attending Brooklyn College and pursuing a psychology degree, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. Brooks served as a corporal with the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry Division. His job? Defusing land mines. There’s nothing funny about that. At age 88, Brooks hasn’t lost his touch for comedy. He just completed a role in the forthcoming Hotel Transylvania 2 as the voice of Vlad’s father.
If you want angry, intellectual comedy, you don’t have to look farther than George Carlin. Though Carlin passed away in 2008, he was once rated as the number two comedian of all time behind the hilarious Richard Pryor (one of my favorites). George Carlin had a knack for criticizing contemporary American society, with an emphasis on bashing religion. His comedic bit, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” from the album, “Class Clown” eventually figured in a U.S. Supreme Court case about obscenity. Carlin was kicked out of high school and eventually joined the United States Air Force when he became old enough. His military service went south in a hurry, however. A regular smartass, Carlin trained as a radar technician and was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana. His fellow airmen didn’t take Carlin’s humor too well and he was booted from the military after being court martialed three times and subsequent to receiving numerous non-judicial punishments as well.
Yet another veteran, Sinbad, aka David Adkins, was the son of a pastor who grew up in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Sinbad got his start on Ed Mahanon’s Star Search and advanced to the second round by beating out Dennis Miller. Sinbad eventually won the Star Search crown for comedians. Though an eventual rogue in the United States Air Force, Sinbad’s trademark was the avoidance of using profanity in his routines. He landed a leading role in the television series, A Different World as Coach Walter Oakes for four years. Sinbad’s military stint also did not go well. The self-admitted “nut” joined the Air Force to play on the basketball team and fly helicopters, neither of which came to fruition. He was booted out of the Air Force in 1982. Sinbad says, “I wanted out because I had achieved all that I could achieve. I wanted to get on with my life; the Air Force wanted me to re-enlist. We had a problem. I went AWOL, mockingly impersonated an officer and, as the final insult, parked my car facing the wrong way at the base. By the time I was discharged, I had no rank, no sleeves, no shirt. I spent the next couple of years hitching rides on Greyhound buses from one comedy club to another.” Despite his errant behavior, Sinbad attributes the U.S. Air Force for turning his life around.
Veterans continue to pop up on television and in movies. Many others have become famous writers, actors and leaders. For those veterans who feel life is dealing them a bad hand, keep your chin up. You might be the next celebrity given a modicum of elbow grease and good fortune. I’m hoping Randy Bell is the next head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s yet-to-be-named restaurant.
Please share names of other famous funny people who served our country below…