At this summer’s Del Close Marathon, Rob Riggle and the Daily Show/Colbert Report improv jam received the suggestion: Iraq. Someone joked that Riggle would be heading there soon. Riggle groaned. Little did we know Riggle was heading to Iraq. He got back late Saturday from a USO tour with fellow Del Close Marathoners, UCB players (and among other TV and film credits) Horatio Sanz, Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel. Riggle’s reports for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart begin airing tonight.
Rob Riggle was in combat in Afghanistan after 9/11 as a Marine Corps major during Operation Enduring Freedom. He returned to another battlefield last week, but to make laughs, not war. Their USO tour was called Operation Feel the Heat. Riggle said: "Forward Operating Base McHenry it was 140 degrees. They might have just said that, though. They pushed the show back to 8 o’clock for it, I think it got back to 125 for that."
As a Marine Corps Major, did you give the other guys advice about how to perform for troops in combat?
"We as a group talked about some of the sketches, some of the bits you wanted to do, but as always, you play for your audience. They’re all professionals and they’re all savvy and they’re all established improvisers. So I had total confidence in them…even if every sketch idea we had got thrown out, I knew we’d be able to come up with something."
How’d the shows go over with the troops?
"They watch the show, they watch Saturday Night Live. They watch Comedy Central. They watch VH1. They’re hip to popular culture. They’re young people. They’d quote lines to Horatio from Saturday Night Live that he’d been in. They’d quote lines to me from an episode of The Office I’d been in."
And here is a missive from Paul Scheer with his initial thoughts…
We made it back from our week in Iraq without incident and it was truly amazing. We met amazing soldiers, rode in Blackhawk helicopters, shot tanks, and watched DVD Bootlegs of Rush Hour 3, This place had everything. Big thanks to the USO, who really made this trip unbelievable. However, my plan of picture and video blogging was severely hindered by the fact that Iraq’s infrastructure doesn’t really support high speed DSL. Who knew?
Even with his military rank, Riggle said he didn’t get better access in Iraq than embedded journalists. "I didn’t go as a Marine in any shape or form," he told me. "I went as a comedian."
They planned some comedy sketches for their "Operation Feel the Heat" but were more than ready to improvise. "If there was some little bit, we tried to grab it," Riggle said. "We left a lot to chance."
Their tour took them from Kuwait to several makeshift bases in Iraq, at times within earshot of battles. "We were on a forward operating base that was really close to Kirkuk when that bomb went off last week," Riggle said.
They returned to New York over the weekend and began combing through the footage Sunday. "I feel confident that if the troops watch this themselves, they would laugh," he said. And he was "pleasantly surprised" by the morale among the troops, many of whom talked to Riggle and the other comedians late into the night after shows.
Will he get called back to rejoin them as a Marine? "I have no idea," Riggle said. "I truly don’t know. I try not to think about it, to be honest. I suppose that’s pretty naive."