We all remember where we were on 9-11. I was in a suburb of Minneapolis at a relative’s house, as I was set that night to perform in Dickinson, North Dakota. The whole day still seems surreal.
So I wake up to watch the towers go down on the television. Then as that tragic morning unfolds, another plane slams into the pentagon. My best friend was working in the Pentagon at the time, so I was really worried about his safety, on top of feeling shaky about was happening to our country.
So I call the booking agent later that morning to just make sure that we weren’t going to do a show that night. He responds by saying,
“why wouldn’t we do a show?” Well, because the worst event to happen inside our country’s borders just happened, I thought the country is taking a break from our regularly scheduled events. His response was “Well, no one called me to say we are cancelling the show, so I expect you to be there.”
OK, so I begin the very long drive out to Western North Dakota. I left a message for my friend in DC, but I get no answer. I listen intently to the news on the radio, trying to make sense of what just happened. I can’t believe I’m driving to a comedy show after what just happened. I know that no one is going to be at this show. It just seems stupid.
So I get to the show that night and guess what, the place is really busy. I guess people have a different ways of dealing with tragedy. These people wanted some laughs. I have never met another comic who did a show on that day. Considering it was a Tuesday, there weren’t many comedy shows going on anyway, so I doubt there were more than a handful of professional comedy shows that night.
For people who weren’t in the business at the time, there was a lot of talk about how would comedy continue on in this climate. Leno and Letterman didn’t go on the air for a week after it. Read this Washington Times story for an account from Dave Berg, a producer for the Tonight Show at the time, to see what it was like after 9-11 in the TV comedy world.
I did all my shows later that week. The tour I was on finished in South Dakota on Saturday night. I can recall there was a power surge and then the electricity went out. Our country was still on edge. I told the audience from the dark stage, I know we are all a little freaked out right now, but Al Qaeda does not have Spearfish, South Dakota on it’s important targets radar. It got a big laugh, the electricity kicked back on a few seconds later and I finished a week of doing my job. I didn’t really feel like a comedian that week. I kind of felt more like a guy just showing up to his job. I was just doing what I was paid to do.
My friend was not injured at the Pentagon, as he was in a different place at the time, which took some of my edginess away. Standup comedy started to gradually come back to its original self. Remember that this was less than year after a bitter election, so I had a decent chunk on Dubya at the time. I had to kill it for a couple of years. It took awhile for anything political to work on-stage. Very few people wanted to question anything, as our run-up to the war in Iraq, proved.
I can remember I had a bit about how Clinton was my favorite President. It took some shots at him, but was overall favorable. I was doing a show in Daleville, Alabama in 2002 when I did that bit. Daleville is an Army base town, so a sizable part of the audience was hostile at me from that point on, as they did not want to hear anything positive about Clinton. One woman would not let me continue on because she was going to give me a piece of her mind about how Bill Clinton was a traitor to America. It was pretty ugly and I finished up and got out of there quickly after I did my time. I was in one of the few professions at the time where I had to change how I did my job.
Instead of watching 9-11 tributes I’m spending my time with the Jon Krakauer book, Where Men Win Glory, which helps me remember the tragic events that ensued after 9-11. It’s about the 1 of a kind Pat Tillman. Most of us pretended like we were ready to sacrifice after 9-11, but we really didn’t. President Bush told us it was a our Patriotic duty to go out and shop and spend like nothing had happened. Not allowing the World Tower collapse to impact our global economy was the way we were going to best show the Taliban they had not broken our spirit. It still feels like a missed opportunity to really come together as a nation.
Pat Tillman, on the other hand, was a 25 year old NFL player who was just hitting his peak as an athlete. He left millions on the table so he could go over to Afghanistan and fight the terrorists. Krakauer’s book does a beautiful job of showing the disillusionment he went through during his time in the military. Tillman is the type of man I would dream my son could be. Strong, passionate, loyal, thoughtful, and not afraid to question authority. He wasn’t perfect, but you cannot really LIVE life without being flawed. I’m not a fan of hero-worship, but it’s hard to deny Pat Tillman didn’t fit the definition.
So I hope when you watch the well-deserved tributes to the people who were killed on 9-11, you keep in mind the soldiers that are still over in Afghanistan, too. It’s the longest war in American history with no end in sight. Remember the victims of 9-11, but also remember that blindly following our leaders doesn’t serve our country well. The blank check we basically gave our President back then is one we are still paying for now and it’s hard to see when we will ever finish paying the interest on it.