COMEDY IMPROV TOUR “RINGIN’ IN THE NEW YEAR” featuring Karri Turner, Dave Price, Jordon Black, Michael Hitchcock, Steve Little and Karen Maruyama
Once again, comedians and television personalities travel to Kuwait to entertain the troops over the New Year holiday. Entertainment was provided by Karri Turner (Lt. Harriet Sims from CBS “J.A.G.”), her fourteenth tour for the troops, Dave Price from “CBS The Early Show” returning for his 9th trip, Jordan Black (“Punk’d”) and Michael Hitchcock (“Glee”) enjoying their 5th tour overseas, as well as Steve Little (“Eastbound and Down”) for his second tour and Karen Maruyama (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) for her very first tour.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 28 AND SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2013 Hard to believe 2013 has slipped by so quickly. I flew out of Nashville at 1 pm today to Dulles to meet everyone for the Improv Comedy Tour to Kuwait. This year’s participants are:
Karri Turner (JAG) Michael Hitchcock (Glee) Karen Maruyama (Arrested Development) Stephen Little (Eastbound and Down) Jordan Black (Community) Dave Price (CBS)
Also joining the group is Shawn Meyer (production) and Dr. Susan Korbel, a research analyst for AFE. It’s one of the most fun tours I do all year and really looking forward to seeing all my dear friends again. My flight departed on time in beautiful weather and was “turbulent free”. It was not “trouble free” however. I have a soft rolling duffle bag and I can zip off the outer compartment so that it easily fits in the overhead bins of the small jets – which are the only planes that fly between Nashville and DC. As I walked onto the plane, I remembered the flight attendant that I had wanted to punch out on a previous trip (too bad I didn’t have that 50 cal with me..ha!). She said I couldn’t bring my rolling bag on the plane. I told her it easily fit into the overhead bin and that I took the fights to DC on small jets on a regular basis and never had any problem. She said it had to fit with the “wheels out”! I have never heard of such a thing. Is that a “safety” concern? If the bin should fly open during turbulence and the bag flew out wheels first, seems like that would cause a lot more injury than if it fly out sideways? She was inflexible…but so was I. She finally settled that I could put it under my seat. I knew it wouldn’t fit without sticking out a long way but I agreed. I was right. When we got ready to take off, she came back and said she would take it and put it in “her” closet. I got her name this time – Sonja – and I’m going to find out if the “wheels out” is Sonja’s rule or the airlines rule and WHY! I landed early and Shawn and Dave had also just arrived. Our friend Mike with the Secret Service met us and hung out with us for a short while. Karri, Jordan and Karen landed from LA a few minutes later followed by Steve from San Francisco and Mike from Chicago. Dr. Korbel also landed but went to a different Lounge to do some work. We had a 4 ½ hour layover but that’s better than the other option – 1 hour connection and those NEVER work out. We sat around and chatted for a while and then walked down to one of the airport restaurants for something to eat. As usual, it was “airport food” and barely edible and very much over-priced. But it will probably be better than what we have on the flight! When we got back to the lounge, a lady sitting near where our group had gathered said that the Lounge personnel had been paging me all over the terminal. We, of course, never heard it. I went to the counter to see what the problem was and was told that we were not supposed to leave our bags in the lounge unattended. I told them that we always had before and they were very nice about it, but said it was forbidden. They said we should have asked and we could have put them behind their counter. However, Karri did ask before she left the lounge and they told her “no”. The flight boarded on time and First and Business was full. The flight crew was really nice and they are flying us back to DC on December 3rd. I, of course, checked with the pilot about “turbulence”. He said, yes, there was quite a bit of turbulence and if we needed to use the restroom, we should do so before takeoff because we might not be able to take off our seat belts for a while after takeoff. Not what I wanted to hear. We took off on time and I was very happy to see that they had switched out the movies. I watched “The Butler” which was good and then at the end of the flight, watched “In a World” right before landing. Michaela Watkins is in “In a World” and she came on one of our comedy tours to Iraq several years ago. The pilot was not lying about turbulence! It was horrific. They had to stop the meal service and make the flight attendants sit down. All the water flew out of my glass. I hate turbulence and this lasted for what seemed like an hour. The food was a little better than the flights last month. After watching “The Butler”, I was going to try and sleep for about 5 hours. But, we kept hitting the really bad turbulence and I was too stressed to sleep. Dave was sitting across from me and slept through it all! We landed a few minutes early, picked up our Visas which were pre-issued and then grabbed our bags from the baggage claim belt. Fortunately everything arrived. I guess Michael had an altercation with a rude United ticket counter agent when departing Chicago and figured he’s never see his bag again. J We had some very disturbing news on Christmas Eve. Our performance at Ali Al Salem Air Base for January 1st was canceled. The base couldn’t accept the tour. There has been a lot of negative publicity recently about “comedians” crossing the line with jokes about sexual harassment, rape, etc., so the Air Base has just established a policy of “no comedy shows”. Our MWR escorts wanted to take us sightseeing on the 1st but no one wants to do that. We are here to say thank you to the troops, not sightsee. I asked the Commander out at Ali Al Salem if we could come out during the day for a “meet and greet”. That didn’t work because it’s January 1st and he’s given all the staff the holiday off. As we left the plane, I saw Mea from the Embassy standing there to meet a VIP. I hugged her and immediately asked her if there was “anything” we could do for the Embassy on the 1st of January. She’s going to check with the Air Force General in charge at the Embassy and let me know. Really hopes this works out. Shame to come all this way and only perform 3 shows. Our MWR escorts and PSD were waiting for us and we quickly loaded the van and bus and departed to the Radisson. Everyone in the group who has stayed here previously was really impressed with the renovation. Got checked in and we all had dinner in the hotel restaurant. Then we had a short meeting about the show. With all the “restrictions”, the actors will have to perform as though their audience is high school students. I know they can pull it off, but they are really going to have to be on their toes with the audience…who gives them their “leads”. It’s almost midnight, so going to try and get a little sleep. Busy day tomorrow at Camp Buehring. Jude
MONDAY, DECEMBER 30TH, 2013 – CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT: I guess I went to bed too early because I woke up at 4 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. Waited for the health club to open and then went down and had a great workout. I was too tired to access my remote server last night and give details on the wonderful folks on this tour. But, here is “more” info about them and this is by no means “all” that they have done. Google them and you’ll recognize every one of them.
- Michael Hitchcock credits: “Bridesmaids,” “”Best in Show,” “Glee” and this is his 5th overseas tour for the troops!
- Karen Maruyama credits: “Arrested Development”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “Whose line is it Anyway”, “The Campaign” and this is her first overseas tour for the troops.
- Steve Little credits – “Eastbound and Down” and “Adventure Time” and his second overseas tour for the troops.
- Karri Turner credits – “Lt Harriet Sims” from the CBS Series “JAG” and her 14th overseas tour for the troops.
- Dave Price credits – from CBS’s “The Early Show” and his 9th overseas tour for the troops
- Jordan Black credits – “Key & Peele”, “Community”, “Halfway Home”, “Punk’d” and this is his 5th overseas tour for the troops.
I got a little work done and some emails answered before we departed to Camp Buehring at noon today. It’s about a 1 ½ hour drive and Karen was “fascinated” with the scenery. It’s fun to watch through the eyes of a “first-timer”. We stopped at one point and took a “desert” photo and a photo of a herd of camels. J Our first stop was the base commander’s office and they were great. The first questions our entertainers had were about the “restrictions” on tonight’s show. She explained everything to them and I think they all felt like they were under a little less pressure as far as what could and could not be said. She presented them with plaques and thanked them for entertaining her troops at Buehring. Next stop was at a hangar to look at the Apache Helicopters. Again, it was fun watching it through the eyes of a “first timer”. All the entertainers took turns having their photos taken while sitting inside the Apache. They all understand now why the fighting is “over” once the Apaches arrive on the scene. J By the time we finished signing autographs and taking photos with everyone it was time for sound check. Didn’t take long for that and we had time to go by the base exchange for “retail therapy” (such as it was) before the show. Had about a half hour to “kill” before heading to the dining hall for “chow”. At dinner we split up and sat at different tables with the soldiers. Dave and I sat with a couple of guys. One of them had the name tag “Carlos” and when Dave asked him his name, he responded “Carlos”. Dave said is that your first name or last name and he said “yes”. LOL. His name is Carlos Carlos and he’s the III! Dave gave him hell during the show tonight. I’ve been under tremendous stress all day because of two other “projects” with deadlines. I’ve been working all day with Mea – the wonderful lady at the Kuwait Embassy. She got approval for us to perform there on the 1st due to our show canceling at Ali Al Salem. Only the 1st is a National Holiday and she couldn’t get approval for the Embassy to be opened. She really worked miracles up to that point but then it was out of her hands. So, we’ll be going shopping on January 1st instead of spending time with the troops. Everyone is really bummed about that…. The other “stress” pocket is INDIA. I’ve been waiting for the promoter to pay his share of the airfares for shows there and in Sri Lanka for the Bellamys in February. We were at “deadline” (actually PAST deadline) for his contribution, so I’ve had to stay in touch with the bank all day. A portion of the money came in, so the stress will continue tomorrow or until the full amount is received. Don’t think I ever want to deal with “India” again. The show was in a small venue that was supposed to only seat about 100. We had almost 300 in the audience and the show could not have been any better. Dave Price was better than I’ve ever seen him. And the Improv part of the show was spectacular, too. The fact that the audience was great certainly didn’t hurt. There was lots of “audience participation” which is always a highlight with the troops. All these guys are consummate professionals and care so much about the military. Susan asked everyone to fill out a comment card after the performance and she said all the feedback was positive and PRAISE for the show and entertainers….exactly what we wanted to hear. They zipped through the long autograph line and then spent some time taking individual photos with the attendees who had a “favorite” actor on the performance. Dave has pretty much lost his voice and Michael’s cold isn’t getting better. In Kuwait, antibiotics are over the counter so our PSD purchased 3 “Z-packs” for us at a pharmacy on our ride back. Dave and Mike took one each and I took the other as a “back up” for anyone else who gets sick….or I may take it myself to help get rid of my horrible cold. They only cost $25 per pack, too! We are spending tomorrow – New Year’s Eve – with the troops at Camp Arifjan. It’s going to be a GREAT way to bring in the New Year! I’m sure I left out some fun details but it is almost 2 am so I think I can “sleep” tonight….NOW! Jude
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2013 – SHOW AT CAMP ARIFJAN: Okay, got ahead of myself yesterday and typed December 30th, 2014!!! Slept 4 ½ hours and think I could have slept 4 more but knew I’d feel better if I got up and jogged. As soon as I walked outside, it started RAINING. Wasn’t even aware that rain was in the forecast. I could have still run but it was a cold rain and I didn’t want to make my cold any worse than it already was. Went into the Health Club and ran on the treadmill. Of course, as soon as I finished, the rain had stopped. I had breakfast by myself since the others were waiting until 10 am. We had a noon departure from the hotel to Camp Arifjan and first on the agenda was a Commander’s Office Call. It was a great visit and our military hosts were delighted with all the questions (some of the hilarious) that the group asked. I met the SM when I was here with Darryl a few weeks ago. He’s here until next August so may see him again. Our next stop was to visit the folks who take care of the Patriot missiles. There were lots of other people in that visit as well including a doctor. Dave’s voice had not come back so the doctor put him on steroids to at least get him through the show. The group loved seeing and hearing about the Patriots. In fact, the first one I saw was here in Kuwait at Camp Doha in 2002. After that visit, the entertainers had interviews with ESH and did a PSA regarding the safety risks involved with texting and driving. We had a few minutes to visit the Exchange and I think all of us purchased COFFEE to try and wake up. Dinner was at the DFAC and I have to say, it’s the worst meal I have ever had in Kuwait. We thought they might be doing something special for New Year’s Eve. It was “special” all right. I thought maybe it was just what I ate but everyone had a similar experience and no one was eating the same thing. The show is in the gym which is “hard” because it’s so large. With Improv, you need a small, intimate room. Last night was perfect but they really had to “improvise” tonight. I forgot to get a count but am guessing around 400. Dave’s voice came back and he was able to get through his 30 minute set. The audience again loved the Improv show and the entertainers were truly touched when they received a standing ovation! Many of the audience members told Susan after last night’s performance that they had no idea what “Improv” was or what they would be seeing. They were all pleasantly surprised especially by the amount of audience participation. The group signed autographs and took photos again – group and individual – after the performance. That’s one of the best parts about these visits for them – being able to shake hands and say “thank you”. We were invited to stay for the “disco” after our performance. But as you can imagine it was unbearably loud with Rap and Hip Hop music. It wasn’t possible to talk to the troops plus in all honesty, they were ready to PARTY! J We walked over to the food court to find something to eat since none of us had been able to eat our dinner. We were back at the hotel at around 11 am and congregated in Jordan’s room for more laughter and to bring in the New Year together. At about 5 minutes after midnight, everyone said good night. Hmmmm….are we boring or just old? LOL It’s 2 am now and I get to “sleep in” tomorrow. We leave for the Mall at 2 pm and my purchases are going to be antibiotics to take home. Love that they are over the counter and don’t expire until 2018. As much as I travel, it will be great to be covered when I’m in a foreign country. Called Zac and Zoe and wished them a Happy New Year. Going to bed now. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE! See you in 2014. Jude
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 1, 2014 – DAY OFF IN KUWAIT: Well, I KNOW the date is correct, just not sure about the day. They all seem to run together and now the tour is almost over – much too soon. I slept like the dead from 3 am until 7 am. It was wonderful! Met everyone for breakfast at 10 am and then worked out at the hotel health club – which is excellent. When I came out, most of our group was sitting around the huge outdoor pool because the weather was so beautiful. Mike even went inside and swam in the indoor pool. Showered and met everyone in the lobby at 2 pm for our “day off excursion”. First stop were the famous Kuwait Towers in the downtown area. Unfortunately they are closed for renovation and we couldn’t go up but still got some great photos. We drove past The White Palace (one of the Emir’s homes) and I swear it was about 3 blocks long – gated, of course, with its own multi-level parking garage. We educated Karen on some of the local customs at Breakfast and during the drive. She couldn’t sleep at all last night. The mall we went to is called “The Avenue” and is huge – similar to Mall of America in Minneapolis. Every shop you can imagine including an area they call “The Gold Room”. That’s where all the designer labels are located — Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Channel – everything. The “ceiling” in that area was fascinating. It was a dome and had lights that looked like peacock feathers that changed colors every few minutes. We all took lots of photos of that! Didn’t stay very long because we were all hungry and I wanted to take them somewhere besides Cheesecake Factory or an “American” restaurant. Jordon isn’t really into “local cuisine” but Knight (our PSD) knew of a place in another mall called “Diva’s”. We drove there and the food was very good. Karri and Karen smoked a Hookah Pipe with strawberry tobacco. We were going to go “pharmacy” hopping to try and find the Z packs but the traffic was terrible. I ended up giving money to our guys and asking them to pick up some for me tomorrow when it’s not so crowded. We were back at the hotel by 8 pm and everyone was yawning. I really hope they didn’t go to bed that early because they will be up at 2 am and tomorrow will be “rough”. Still hard to believe it’s the first day of 2014…and even harder to believe we didn’t get to spend it with the troops. I’m sure everyone loved having a “day of rest” but given the option, we would all much rather have performed at Ali Al Salem. We go to Camp Patriot (also known as SPOD because it is the Seaport) tomorrow. There are only a few Navy stationed there as it is mostly Army now. We’ll do a 4 pm show, autograph session, and come back to the hotel to shower and head to the airport by 10:30 pm for our 12:55 am flight back to the U.S. Weather isn’t going to be so great in DC but still think we’ll be able to land! Jude
THURSDAY, JANUARY 2ND AND FRIDAY, JANUARY 3RD, 2014 – CAMP PATRIOT, KUWAIT – LAST SHOW: I was so happy to be getting more than 4 hours sleep last night. Went to bed at 12:30 am and set the alarm for 7:00 am. At 2 am my blackberry rang. It was a “661” area code and not a number I recognized so I let it go to voice mail. My voice mail message tells the caller that I am in Kuwait and to send me an email. They did not leave a voice mail message and 10 minutes later, it rang again. This continued about every 20 minutes until 4 am! When I got up at 7 am, I “googled” the number and it had hundreds of “hits”. Evidently, if I had answered the call, my blackberry would have been infected with a virus! Finally got to run outside in absolutely perfect weather. It’s a beautiful last day in Kuwait. After showering, had breakfast with some of the group and went back to the room to do a little packing. We won’t have but a couple of hours here at the hotel when we return tonight before leaving for the airport. We drove for an hour to Camp Patriot (or SPOD as they call it – Sea Port). In years past, it was mostly Navy but now the Army has taken it over. There are only about 500 men and women stationed there and as they told us, the “celebrities” rarely come there to perform so they have to drive to Arifjan for entertainment. Our first stop was at the stage because we knew from years past that if we performed outdoors, we would have issues with the wind. It was the same this year, so we moved it indoors to a small movie theatre that only seats about 100. It’s the perfect setting for “Improv” though. Our first “visit” was to see the Howitzer. Since I has just “played” on one in Korea, I stood back and took photos of the group having fun. They loved hearing about how the gun worked and being able to get inside the Paladin. We spent much longer there than anticipated and took lots of photos with the guys. Next stop was to tour one of the ships. Again, such a great learning experience about our “Army” actually deployed to a ship. We saw the suit that the guys have to wear if they go into the water and it reminded me of my very first tour for the troops back in 1991. I was managing the Forester Sisters and the USO called and wanted them to go to Iceland for New Year’s Eve. They agreed and we flew up on a P3 Submarine surveillance plane all the way from Nashville to Iceland! The crew had me put on that same suit to show what they wore if they had to ditch in cold water. The one I wore was bright orange and I looked a lot like “Gumby” once I got it on. I also remember the zipper getting stuck and having a mild panic attack because it was so hot inside the suit. They finally had to pull the suit apart at my chest and I wiggled my head out of that opening and was able to slip out of the suit! Karen was the brave volunteer who put on the “fireman’s suit”. She said it was incredibly heavy. There’s some great photos of her on the Stars for Stripes Facebook page and there will be even more photos on the JSI website next week. We spent so much time touring and visiting with the troops at Patriot that we only had a few minutes left before it was show time. We made a quick stop at the Base Exchange where they also had a food court. The building where the performance was held was packed and the fire Marshall allowed us to have more than the 100 capacity allotted. Dave had some really funny volunteers in his part of the show and the Improv portion was as big a hit as ever. So many people came up to me after the performance thanking me for bringing entertainment to Patriot. They re-confirmed that they rarely have celebrity visits there and were so appreciative. And, they LOVED the show. The group signed autographs for everyone and took lots of photos not only with the folks at Patriot but with our MWR and PSD who have been so good to us all week. The drive back to the hotel was filled with talk about what a great tour it had been and plans for the next one. We actually stopped at the Red Lobster located next to the hotel and had a nice dinner. My food was excellent and it got great reviews from some of our group and not so great from others depending on what they ordered. I had a plate with all broiled seafood – lobster, crab claws, and 2 types of grilled shrimp. We had less than 2 hours at the hotel once we finally got back there. I spent my time paying the bill, grabbing a quick shower and dealing with the “problems on my India tour”. We are finally able to “re-book” the airfares we had to cancel a week ago but of course, one of the flights is now sold out and the prices have escalated! Mea from the Embassy did stop by to say hello and we had a nice chat about trying to get some entertainment out to them on future tours. Of course, it’s all up to MWR, definitely not my decision, so I put her in touch with the new group at MWR. Check in at the airport was a breeze with our PSD escorting us. We have about 45 minutes to spend in the Lounge and then headed to our gate. We had been “warned” that we would have to take a bus to our plane because there was an aircraft broken down at our gate and it couldn’t be moved. We had the same flight crew as our trip over which was nice. There were lots of guys in the yellow vests going back and forth between business and first class and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. I heard a little of the “chatter” and evidently there was a problem with the lights in business class. They wouldn’t turn off! The Captain made the decision to depart with the broken lights because to fix them meant returning to the gate because the work would have to be done underneath the plane. There’s a good chance we would have been delayed so long that we would all miss our connections. I hated it for the Business Class passengers but hopefully they took a sleeping aide and put on their eye masks. The flight attendant did say that everyone would be “compensated” for the inconvenience with miles to their account. Really sucks but probably better than being stuck in DC when we land. I watched a great movie titled “Prisoners” and then “took a long nap”. We are going to land a little bit late and not sure what we are facing once we land. I do know that Dave is probably not going to make it to NYC since there is a huge snowstorm in the area. He has purchased a train ticket “just in case” he has to go that route. We have travel insurance, so he should be reimbursed for that cost. And the sweet flight attendant told him she lives in near Union Station and offered to drive him there to catch his train. I have flights on hold from DC to Atlanta and Atlanta to Nashville on Delta because my flight is coming in from Providence, RI and I “doubt” it will be able to get to DC – again because of the weather. The only other United routing would be through Chicago and they are in the midst of a huge winter storm as well. I’m sure I’ll have to fight United to get them to put me on the Delta flight, too! We landed early but then had to wait about 10 minutes for a gate. Immigration wasn’t crowded but it took 40 minutes for our luggage to come out. Said a quick good-bye to everyone and ran about a 3 minute mile to the gate. We landed at C gates and I was departing from A gates which is as far away as possible. Had to take a tram at one point, too. I kept checking the board to make sure we were leaving on time as well as my internet messages. Everything said the flight was departing on time. I had exactly 11 minutes to get to the gate before departure time. When I finally arrived, I asked the gate agent if they had already boarded. She said they were waiting on the flight crew. Great. You’d think they would update their flight status at least in the airport itself. We waited about a half hour for the flight crew and then boarded. I didn’t even try to take my rolling duffle on board because I didn’t want to “argue” if it was the flight attendant “Sonja”. It wasn’t, so when the flight attendant came by to give us the rules for Exit Row, I asked her about that rule on this particular plane. She had no idea what I was talking about and said she had never heard of such a thing. Two off duty pilots were sitting across from me and confirmed that they had never heard of “Sonja’s Rule” either! After boarding, we sat for about 30 more minutes waiting for “someone who could close the baggage door”! Seriously? I could close it if they would let me. Then, just when we think we are finally leaving, we have to wait another half hour for a “tug” that can push us away from the gate. Evidently we have sat for so long that the tarmac is iced over and the small tug can’t get enough traction. They tried 2 more before finally pushing us away. During all this, Karri has let me know that the LAX passengers who were supposed to depart at 8:45 am are still sitting at the gate. They boarded the flight at around 10 am only to sit on the plane – with the doors open and said it was freezing. They were “catering” the flight. There was a problem, so they made them get off the flight. All in all, they got on and off the plane a couple of times and then sat in the Lounge for hours. At one point, they gave them the same excuses – they had to find someone to push the plane back. After that excuse, the next one was that they were waiting for a fuel truck to re-fuel the plane. They waited and waited and were finally told that the fuel was frozen in the ground and they were looking for somewhere else to get fuel. Now, during all this, other flights are taking off and landing “regularly”! Just typical “United Airlines” b.s. I think they took off at around noon or 1 pm EST. Even with all the “flight hassles”, it was a wonderful tour….for the troops we visited and for all the entertainers who participated. Karen was a very welcome “blessing” to the tour and it was great to have Steve back again. My “regulars” – Karri, Dave, Michael and Jordan have become such an important part of my “New Year’s Eve”. Hopefully we’ll be able to go again next year – “somewhere” that the troops need the morale boost. Happy New Year, everyone. Jude
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