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16 Countries on 3 Continents

By Chris ZPublished 4 months ago Updated 3 months ago 5 min read
"GIs, deployed abroad for months on end, are particularly susceptible to boredom, depression & suicide."


Circa 16 years ago, I embarked on my first Armed Forces Entertainment tour. AFE, a subset of the ARMY’s “Moral, Welfare, and Recreation” network, is analogous to yesteryear’s USO. GIs, deployed to perilous Hoth, Dagobah, and Tatooine-like posts for what feels like a Game of Thrones winter to them, are particularly prone to boredom, depression, and suicide. As a countermeasure, AFE books comedians, country musicians, MMA exhibitions, et al, to enliven their spirits.

Keith was 20 years into his standup comedy career by the time we met. On top of headlining comedy bookings, Keith earned commissions by booking comics for lucrative private shows (country clubs, company Christmas parties, etcetera). When stars aligned under Pluto’s gaze, Keith would book a show’s opening act for a cut, and book himself as the closer.

One fine day, I received an unexpected call. Keith and a cohort were renting a house in suburban Burbank. The house lay a stone’s throw from the 5, and boasted a backyard the size of a squash court. Keith sought someone he knew, liked, and trusted to rent the granny flat. At $600 a month, I’d be paying 1/2 of what comparable ADUs went for. In return for In addition to paying spectacularly under par rent, I drove Keith to/from the airport when he traveled on business, and cared for his cats while he was away.

Though Keith and I got on well, we were hardly kindred spirits. Keith was 12 years older, politically Conservative, and owned way too many cats (“too many cats” = any number greater than none). Though I knew he booked gigs, I never debased myself by soliciting handouts. I knew that word of my act, work ethic, and reputation would find him in due time.

Months passed before kismet found Keith and I/us booked on the same in-town show. I worked clean, wrote clever, and prided myself on my above-average jokes-per-minute ratio. Performing for military personnel abroad, crowds were often less than ideal. Comics needed the chops to hard-sell shitfaced grunts one night and soft-sell stodgy brass the next. That single set convinced Keith that I possessed both.

Incidentally, Iliza, the other opener Keith procured, went on to parlay her telegenic puss and her then boyfriend’s connections into c-list level success. Last March, her name and likeness darkened my disposition. A billboard flanking Florida’s most heavily trafficked highway told of her headlining the Hard Rock Live, proving karma a fiction.

By the time economic downturn forced a freeze on all new AFE tours, I’d worked 16 countries on 3 continents, some of them several times. The years I spent gallivanting about the globe, particularly throughout the Middle East, not only heightened my consciousness, but fostered some of my adult life’s fondest memories, and many of its funniest musings…


In today’s paper, Palestinians and Israelis are at it again. Not for nothing, but those people need God in their lives. While, normally, I have no qualms with pond scum -street racers, antivaxxers, or an insurrectionist breaching the Capitol Building- purging itself from the gene pool, I can’t help but question the wisdom of blowing oneself up for 72 virgins. I mean, what says “great sex” better than an anxious and inexperienced partner? I claimed one maidenhead in high school, if entering Heaven demands that I deflower 72 more, I’ll blow myself up again.

I was schooled Southern Baptist as an adolescent, which is why Xanax, Zoloft, and Cialis became the holy trinity keeping and protecting me as an adult. As a boy, I was taught that God planted fossils on our planet to “test our faith.” As a man, I teach that God planted faith on our planet to test our IQs. So much of the subjective, superstitious nonsense that Ambassador Christian Academy profited from selling failed the smell test on first sniff: “Christianity is a monotheistic faith with a tripartite Godhead.” Sounds like the Cognitive Dissonance Café’s daily special, doesn’t it? “The Bible is the inerrant word of God, despite having been hand-translated from one tongue to the next by geographically and generationally disparate scribes.” For Christ’s sake, Bibles bear the word “version” on their covers!

Meanwhile, I was raised reformed Roman Catholic by my mother. Being a less stringent Christian sect, they compressed the 10 Commandments into one precept: “You do you, just feel guilty after the fact. When the guilt gets too much, confess to a priest, who likely has much more and much worse to confess than you do.”

I’ve been a born-again atheist since reaching the ironically titled “age of reason.” Being vocal about my irreligiosity as a standup comic courted many memorable questions, particularly from denizens of our nation’s most backwater burgs:

“Does being an atheist mean you worship the Devil?”

“No, Sir/Mam, Satan is a character in Christian folklore; to wit, if I don’t believe in Smurfs, I don’t believe in Gargamel.”

As anyone even nominally familiar with the Christian faiths knows, one must accept Christ as his/her savior premortem to pass the pearly gates postmortem. Isn’t it high time that rational, right-thinking adults collectively concede what we’ve always known, that Heaven is a carrot to keep mules marching? In short, no one would abstain from pork or premarital sex if Zion were described as a dead ringer for Detroit!

Some scholars question whether the Biblical Jesus ever existed. While I don’t claim to be an authority, I’ve read more than most on the subject (both for and against). A substantive answer remains atmospheres above my pay grade. However, common sense alone deems the prospect of Christendom’s effete Anglo-Saxon archetype a dubious one. “Revelations” describes Christ, ostensibly a Palestinian Jew, as having had “hair white as white wool” and feet “like burnished bronze.” A black Jesus seems all the more likely given that his story, literally, begins with his parents denied a room at the inn. Throw in his entourage, a derelict dad, and assassination at the height of his fame, you’ve got every gansta rapper’s backstory!

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About the Creator

Chris Z

My opinion column garnered more reader responses than any other contributor in the paper's 40-year run. As a stand-up comic, I performed in 16 countries & 26 states. I've written 2 one-man shows, umpteen poems, songs, essays & chronologies.

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