By Mark Iacampo June 11, 2012
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Laughter rocked the house as five of America's fastest rising comedians graced the stage of Hohenfels' Zone as part of the "Lights Out Comedy Tour," recently. Led by Johnny Cardinale on his 7th tour with Armed Forces Entertainment, the lineup included Sean Kent, Assad Motavasseli, Mark Serritella, and Maria Shehata.
"It's the (Soldiers) that keep bringing me back," Cardinale said, who made his feature film debut in last year's "Bobby Khan's Ticket to Hollywood." "You get to know these guys, you get to hear their stories … and they need it, man, so it's very rewarding."
The tour kicked off in Kosovo, and continued through Hohenfels, Bamberg, and Camp Darby, Italy.
Aside from Cardinale, the other performers were all new to the Military circuit. They all agreed it has been a moving experience for them.
"After my first show, the smiles on those guys' faces," said Kent, one of only three comics to have won both the San Francisco and Seattle International Comedy Competitions. "They have to be so emotionally strong. These guys in Kosovo, they're away from their families for a year, which as a father I can't even fathom. And you're just bringing a little joy to them."
Motavasseli, co-host of the weekly podcast, "Now What Pod," said it really struck him what their show meant to the Soldiers when someone came up to him after the performance and said, "Thanks, man, we haven't laughed in 18 months."
Shehata, whose quick wit and crowd-pleasing conversational delivery has brought her appearances on Comedy Central's "The Watch List" and Showtime's "Bridging the Gap," said that once she met and talked with Soldiers, she felt it was an incredible gift to be able to perform for them.
"She just likes the percentage of males on the bases," quipped Cardinale.
Serritella, called by City Beat magazine "an edgier more political Seinfeld," said he had expected to have a great time on the tour, but he was having even more fun than he anticipated.
"Definitely one of the better times I've ever had," he said. "When I think of Soldiers, I think of stoic, real quiet. But they've been very gracious and showed a lot of gratitude to us for doing the shows. There's been a lot of personality."
"They have a wicked sense of humor," Kent agreed.
Kent's sense of humor was especially appreciated by Spc. Mike Presti who said of Kent's set, "Everything he said was so true it was freakishly hilarious!"
The comics kept the guffaws coming all night, from Cardinale's impromptu solution to a malfunctioning microphone to Kent's vivid description of the differences between the mind's of men and women. No subject was taboo, from raunchy to race. Iranian-American Motavasseli joked about how after 9/11 he pretended he was Mexican while Egyptian-American Shehata revealed how the Bangles number one hit "Walk like an Egyptian" tormented her during childhood.
"They had us rolling," said Spc. Ricardo J. Santiesteben, adding that shows like that this really help to support the troops. "It brings them back to a stable environment … they're able to come here and relax."
"Having deployed three times, I really appreciate FMWR's (Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation) commitment to bringing such high quality entertainment to us Soldiers, and this show was no exception," said Sgt. First Class Chris Bruhn. "I laughed so hard my sides hurt."
The quintet of comedians all agreed that performing for the troops was a humbling and rewarding experience. Kent summed it up for them all.
"You go on the road and you perform for drunks, and they're like, hey, entertain me," he said. "They're having a good time but they're not necessarily grateful. The gratitude and humility that these (Soldiers) express when they're the ones out there giving up huge percentages of their lives to ensure things for us, and we just tell jokes, and they're so thankful. That's really nice."