Award-winning comedian, filmmaker talks comedy in war zones
September 27, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Writer, comedian and filmmaker Jennifer Rawlings recalls an event years ago when another speaker walked up to her, put a $100 bill in her hand and said, "You need to keep telling these stories; it's important people hear them."
That was just the start.
A Kansas native, Rawlings went to college to study biology and decided to become a stand-up comedian instead. She's been seen on Comedy Central, CMT, PBS, FOX, VH-1, A&E and CNN and her essays and writing have been published in numerous magazines and national publications including The New York Times and Reader's Digest.
If you go
What: Jennifer Rawlings: "I Only Smoke in War Zones"
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28
Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.
What: Screening of the documentary, "Forgotten Voices: Women in Bosnia"
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29
Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.
Since 1999, Rawlings has made one to three trips a year to entertain the troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo to Bahrain, Qatar, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Korea.
Compelled to share the stories of the characters she’s encountered over the years, Rawlings created her unique solo show, "I Only Smoke in War Zones…a One Woman Show: A Collection of True Stories from the Battlefield (both at Home and Abroad)," which she’ll bring to Steamboat Springs at 7 p.m. Friday at the Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.
Her experiences also prompted her to create the documentary, "Forgotten Voices: Women in Bosnia," which will screen at 7 p.m. Saturday, also at the Chief.
Earlier this week, Explore Steamboat caught up with Rawlings to chat about her experiences, a multifaceted career and what it was like performing on stage in war zones.
Explore Steamboat: What made you want to go to the war zones?
Jennifer Rawlings: It started off as a gig. Yet you recognize that many of them are kids basically, and if they're over there for six months to a year or so, I can certainly go over there for a month and bring them some laughter and some fun. Once you start going over there, you start seeing what goes on in the world and you want to know more. Comedy is such a relief of emotional steam, especially to be able to laugh. It's relatable. People connect with the stories even far from home.
ES: How did you get that gig?
JR: The first time I went to a dangerous war zone, I remember my agent called me up and said, "Hey want to go to Iraq? It's really dangerous, conditions are rough." I just thought that if these soldiers can do it – anyone can do anything for limited amount of time. It was mainly male comedians going over there at that time, and I know military has men and women so I wanted to go to balance out the jokes.
ES: How did you get through those challenging moments, those moments of fear?
JR: It's funny how the mind works. When you're in the middle of it, you don't have the space in your head to be scared. It's when you go back home and you remember the fact you were rocketed and bombed at every location you were at, then you get scared. But it always comes back to that fact that I'm there for the audience, this is what I got to do. So you make it work.
ES: What story or message did you hope to share through your film, "Forgotten Voices: Women in Bosnia"?
JR: After reading a newspaper one Sunday morning in 2007 there was a story in which a woman in Darfur told a reporter she hoped the fighting would end soon so things could return to normal. I realized that after nearly two decades traveling to war zones that this woman's life is not going to go back to normal — that in fact it's going to get much worse because the aftermath of war lasts much longer than after the last bullet is fired.
I wanted to show that we always tell our kids they can do whatever they set their mind to, always encouraging them. But I think sometimes, as parents, we forget to believe that for ourselves. So through this film I wanted to show that to others, because I do believe that the power of change is not in the hands of governments or intuitions, it's in the hands of the people – this is why I felt the need to do this film, to share these stories.
Tickets, which are available at chieftheater.com or at the door, are $20 for the Friday show and $15 for the Saturday film screening, or $30 for both.