Jordan Brady, a former (and still) stand-up comedian turned filmmaker, has found a renewed love for comedy a generation after he first entertained audiences in person and on TV with his own reimagining of what porn films should sound like (whether you say “Bow-chicka-bow-wow” or “wow-wow,” you’re quoting his bit).

With I Am Battle Comic, Brady has now completed a trilogy of documentaries about stand-up comedy, narrowing down his focus each time – from what it means to be a comedian (I Am Comic), to what life actually looks like on the road for stand-ups (I Am Road Comic), and finally to a very specific mission and road gig for comics, performing for military troops overseas.

His first two docs went on their own tours of the film festival circuit, but I Am Battle Comic premieres tonight in Royal Oak, Mich., near a military base.

When the United States sent young men and women off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, plenty of comedians across the country asked audiences to “give it up for the troops” during shows. That’s cheap applause, and the soldiers don’t hear any of it. A much smaller number of comedians volunteer for the USO or other organizations, and actually support the troops by performing for them either inside secure bases or sometimes less-secure forward operating bases closer to the actual enemies.

I Am Battle Comic opens in the cockpit as a military plane lands somewhere in Kuwait, then cuts to a series of interviews, shot starkly in black-and-white with the likes of Tammy Pescatelli, George Wallace, Shawn Halpin, Jennifer Rawlings, George Lopez, Dave Attell and Wayne Federman. “People were like, ‘Oh, that was a really brave choice you made.’ I didn’t think even performing for the troops was brave, but I was at least around brave people, so I was in the vicinity of bravery, which should be the name of this documentary,” Federman said.

It’s not called “In The Vicinity of Bravery,” though. Instead, the I Am refers to Brady, once again throwing himself into a comedy road trip – this time with Don Barnhart’s Battle Comics – as they performed for troops in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq and Bahrain in 2016. Don Barnhart, Jeff Capri, Bob Kubota and Slade Ham all are comedy vets, so to speak. Barnhart has gone overseas to entertain the military since 1992, either in coordination with the USO, Comics On Duty, or Armed Forces Entertainment.

The comedians tell Brady about the basic rules to abide by. There may be many, but essentially boil down to one: Don’t denigrate the troops or the country. Brady has a self-deprecating style about himself that he carries through the film, onscreen or behind the camera. But the film itself has to balance moods, from silly to somber, from flashbacks to Bob Hope and the earliest USO tours, to Robin Williams and the support he offered in more recent years. Each base visit usually starts with a meet-and-greet with the unit, thereby helping to ground the comedians literally as well as emotionally before they ever step onstage.

“It ain’t about how cool you are. Coolness goes out the window on these things,” Kubota says.

And if you’re worried that Barnhart’s Battle Comics aren’t exactly the biggest names the soldiers could hope to see, then you’re worrying about the wrong things. These men and women serving in the Middle East have little other entertainment options, work all day, don’t drink and so little sense of time that every day feels like Monday. Any comedy is a welcome change of pace for them. After a show, most of the troops will approach the comedians to say hi, ask for autographs and pose for photos. Which makes it much more personal and emotional for the comedians, too. Much more so than a college or club gig, certainly. These soldiers not only become loyal fans of the comedians, but also, because they’re fighting on the front lines, may die in combat or later by their own hands.

Halpin served in the infantry and security forces before becoming a stand-up comedian. As he tells Brady on camera: “When I was in the Marines, I had a roommate…blow his own head off. I had to take his body back to his parents, and so it’s something I can relate about. And so it’s a hard…”

Comedy can provide that much-needed morale booster. Sometimes giving soldiers their first/only chance to laugh in several months, fighting off depression, which can be as baffling/powerful a foe as the terrorists themselves.

George Lopez says: “There’s a connection between military people that lasts forever. You don’t have that in the gang. You don’t have that in a fucking Costco membership. You ain’t have that shit in Little League, winning championships. That’s some shit that goes to the soul and to the heart.”

The bombing of the Brussels airport happened while Brady and Barnhart’s crew were overseas, which provided a sad reminder that the fight goes on. Which means the need to laugh continues, too.

It’s not about politics on the front lines, so comedians keep politics out of the show. There’s nothing the troops can do about that, anyhow.

I Am Battle Comic gets to know some of the troops and devotes a few minutes getting to know each of the comedians, too. Maybe there’s too much of their unnecessary riffing, but that’s easy for me to say from my cozy apartment in New York City. What seems unnecessary for me as a viewer may have been vital for them to get through that day or night in the desert.

Either way, the film closes with an ending that’ll make you melt.

I Am Battle Comic begins a series of special screenings and post-screening Q&As tonight. Here’s the full schedule, with ticket information. If you want to host a screening in your town/city, please email iambattlecomic@gmail.com

100% proceeds from these special screenings go to charities that support our military personnel, veterans and their families.

April 5 – Detroit, Michigan. Main Art Theater, Royal OakBUY TICKETS NOW
Benefit for MilitaryFamily.org

April 25 – Dallas, Texas. Landmark MagnoliaBUY TICKETS NOW
Benefit for MilitaryFamily.org

April 26 – Houston, Texas. Landmark River Oaks. BUY TICKETS NOW
Benefit for MilitaryFamily.org

April 27 – Phoenix, Arizona.  Harkins at CamelviewBUY TICKETS NOW
Benefit for SemperFiFund.org

May 2 – Los Angeles. Landmark West LABUY TICKETS NOW
Benefit for Operation Gratitude

May 31 – Las Vegas. AMC Town Square 18BUY TICKETS NOW
Benefit for For Veterans Sake

June 1 – Minneapolis. Landmark Lagoon. BUY TICKETS NOW
Benefit for MilitaryFamily.org

June 2 – Digital Download Worldwide 50% of your purchase donated to National Military Families Association.