Comic relief for troops by way of Baltimore

City comedians to tour Pakistan, other countries

August 24, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Baltimore comedians Howard "G," Rickey Shackleford and Joe Recca are leaving Baltimore today for their biggest tour ever.

They're not headed to the glamour of New York City or Los Angeles. Instead, they're going to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other countries to entertain U.S. troops stationed there.

The trio -- plus road manager Lonnie Davis -- plans to stay past Sept. 11.

"I feel as though we're going over there at the appropriate time because laughter is needed, especially as we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11," said Howard "G," 35, whose last name is Gaskins. "Our troops are over there protecting us, so why can't we go over there to entertain them?"

Plans call for the comedians to perform nearly two dozen shows in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, said Air Force Capt. Mel Grills, who works for Armed Forces Entertainment and will accompany them. They are scheduled to fly out of Dulles International Airport tonight and return to Maryland on Sept. 26.

"Some of those people have to see things, do things that nobody back here in the States would even think of or imagine having to do," said Grills. "Giving those folks a break from reality, what they're doing, we're hoping it not only improves morale but [also] their production. If you don't have some down time and a chance to relax, you get burned out quickly."

Howard "G" submitted a tape to Armed Forces Entertainment, hoping to be selected to perform for the troops. Recca also wanted a shot, so he invited AFE officials to watch him perform at D.C. Improv in Washington. Officials liked both acts and decided to hire the men. What they'll be paid was not disclosed.

"I sent in a tape because it's an opportunity, and it's a chance to show my talents around the world, and especially for the troops to make them laugh," said Howard "G," a comedian for 12 years who also acts in commercials.

Recca, 44, who is from New Jersey and moved to Baltimore a few years ago, has been a comedian for more than 15 years. He acknowledges being a little nervous about going to war-torn countries, and he knows that some nights the comedians will have to sleep in tents in sweltering heat, but he is excited about going.

"The troops are putting their lives on the line," said Recca. "Part of the reason we have the freedoms we have is because they're over there fighting for it. To be able to go over there and entertain them is an honor."

Shackleford, 45, has been a comedian for 25 years and got involved in the tour through his association with Howard "G." They've known each other for years, and on Thursday they performed at the Coliseum, a sports bar and grill in Cockeysville, where they took turns telling jokes and involving the audience in their act.

Although many Coliseum patrons were distracted by the more than 90 televisions there, Howard "G" and Shackleford managed to entertain them with off-color jokes and skits that required audience participation, such as "The Dating Game."

Both men specialize in celebrity impersonations. On this night, Shackleford played with lyrics to the famous Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham, mimicking the voice of Fat Albert.

"Can you imagine walking up to Fat Albert and asking him if he eats green eggs and ham?" Shackleford asked. Then, impersonating the cartoon character, he replied: "I would not eat them here or there. I did not eat them when we were on welfare."

Next, Shackleford answered the question as boxer Mike Tyson. "I would not drink them with a beer. I'd rather eat them with an ear," he said, causing the crowd to erupt into laughter.

The men said they'll use a variety of techniques to entertain the troops.

Coliseum general manager Mark Fine said he thinks "it's about time" somebody went over to do something for the troops. "It definitely will be a morale booster."

Doug McKernan, 38, played pool while listening to the comedians.

"Being from [North Carolina], where there are several military bases, I'm very supportive of the troops, and I think it's great that these guys are going over," McKernan said. "Their brand of comedy has a lot of cultural references to the American way of life, and it'll help the guys remember why they're there."

The comedians aren't household names like those -- including Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller and Marilyn Monroe -- who helped popularize overseas performances for U.S. troops, but their efforts will be appreciated nonetheless, Grills said.

"I just got back from a trip with [rapper] Kurtis Blow and the B Boy Dream Team," Grills said. "They were there during July Fourth. Kurtis was able to say, `I was in New York when the towers were built, and I was in New York when the towers came down, and thank you for what you do.' Tears swelled in everybody's eyes. It was a very moving time."

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