Thom Tran earned a Purple Heart while serving in the United States Army as a sergeant in the Special Ops Command. Tran was wounded just four days after reaching Iraq in 2003, but he still managed to tough out the rest of a yearlong deployment. It wasn’t until his roommate was killed just two weeks before Tran was set to go home that the impact of what he had been through began to take its toll on him emotionally. Like a lot of soldiers, Tran struggled with the move back to civilian life, and it wasn’t until he discovered stand-up comedy that he began to pull himself out of the grip of depression and PTSD.
From this unlikely story, an idea was born, and on Thursday, September 12, patrons at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club will be able to see and hear what this great and funny success story is all about. That’s when Thom Tran and the GIs of Comedy will make their Santa Barbara debut. Tran, Tom Irwin, and Shawn Halpin will be taking the stage for a show that will benefit Dr. Judith Broder’s The Soldiers Project, a national network of therapists providing free, confidential counseling for veterans. Comedian and therapist Carol Metcalf will host.
Speaking by phone last week, Tran shared some thoughts about his experience and the new sense of purpose that he has gained through comedy. “It was 2011 when I finally broke up,” he recalled. “I spent six weeks in a drunken blur, and one of the doctors at the VA looked me over and said, ‘If you don’t relax, you’re going to have a heart attack. I couldn’t think of what would relax me until I tried my first open mic. It was terrifying, but when the laughs came, I felt great. It’s a primal thing, laughter, and it means that people relate to you. And there’s no agenda behind it — it is what it is. I loved it.”
After making the rounds of the comedy clubs, Tran discovered that there were other military personnel, both veterans and active soldiers, who also did stand up. He speaks movingly of his decision to organize these men into the GIs of Comedy tour, which plays both military bases and regular clubs all around the country. “People have such a limited view of veterans; it’s like they are stuck in the 1970s. You can leave the military and have a life! People need to know this. We are not all bearded homeless dudes left over from Vietnam. The head of human resources at DreamWorks is a veteran, and the head of Universal was a Green Beret. It’s time to change people’s perceptions about veterans, and time to change veterans’ perceptions about life after the military.”
The GIs of Comedy comes to SOhO (1221 State St.) on Thursday, September 12, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 965-5205 or visit sohosb.com for info.