Thom Tran had a heart attack when he was 26.
When his doctor asked him the last time he relaxed, he said he hadn’t felt relaxed since he was 21. Now the 35-year-old Iraq War veteran is a stand up comedian.
“My buddy owned a comedy club and started feeding me jokes, and I started getting good,” Tran said. “I was doing it because it was my therapy.”
Tran is a member of the GIs of Comedy, a group of veterans with a mission to “help heal their fellow soldiers with their comedy.”
The group performed at Temple on Oct. 4 in Mitten Hall.
Tran saw live combat in Iraq in 2003. He said joining the armed forces was something he always wanted to do.
“My father fought for his country,” Tran said. “My grandfather fought in a war. As an adult, I realized a lot of people died for America for people to live in the suburbs – people who grow up and watch the f—ing Kardashians don’t understand why they get to do that. I wanted to go there and experience the bloodshed. It was the least I could do.”
After getting wounded in 2003, Tran worked as a recruiter for a year before retiring. Because the adjustment from military to civilian life has not been easy, Tran said he relies on comedy.
“If I don’t do comedy for two weeks, I am a raging [jerk],” he said. “It’s my way to relax and get the demons down.”
Around the time of his heart attack, Tran worked at a radio station. After attending his friend’s comedy shows, hanging around comedians and getting to know the community, Tran finally started performing material of his own.
Tran got involved with The Laugh Factory and other noteworthy comedy clubs in the Los Angeles area. After a few years, his therapy became his job.
“I literally tell d— and fart jokes for a living,” he said.
After years of solo work, Tran eventually decided to create the GIs of Comedy. He said flying four war veterans around the entire country isn’t cheap.
“An airline isn’t going to take my good will as payment, but the GIs of Comedy wasn’t something I did for the money,” Tran said. “The reason I created the GIs of Comedy is that there are people like me – people who are depressed and angry and drink all the time. Nobody knows where they are coming from. Now there’s a guy with a microphone who understands.”
Comedy helped Tran integrate back into civilian life. He felt it was his duty to give back to people who fought and risked their life for their country, he said. “When I tell a joke about me s—ing myself in a gun fight, they get to see that there’s a small group of people like them.”
“We don’t like to laugh at war,” Tran said. “But I say, have you seen war? It’s f—ing hysterical. But people don’t want to offend anyone, but I’ve been to war. I can make jokes about it.”
Tran said he sees the GIs of Comedy as a form of group therapy and hopes the program can serve as a role model for veterans.
“We’re saying, ‘We’re vets,’” he said. “We’re making something. I’ve created a business. I’ve created a brand, and I want to show other veterans of the Greater Philadelphia area that they can do it too.”
Anmol Hegde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org