Comics for Courage
Funnyman Christopher Cannon is serious about helping veterans
While Christopher Cannon was cracking wise on the back deck of an M-1 Abrams battle tank at Fort Hood in the mid-Eighties, the notion of him doing something for the military never really crossed his mind. He was too busy figuring how he'd get out of the army and parlay his knack for telling jokes into a comedy career. These days, though, this working comic with two solid decades of paid gigs under his mic is channeling most of his professional energies into giving back to the armed services: raising both funds for and awareness about wounded veterans and their struggles to readjust to civilian life through his nonprofit, Comics for Courage. He works with high schools, staging benefit performances and making classroom visits, and mounts comedy club events, such as the one at Cap City Comedy Club next weekend.
"During my time in the military, I had no idea I would be in the position I am now," says the onetime Austinite, now Minneapolis-based. "I guess maturity has a lot to do with it. Once you're a veteran, you'll always have a place in your heart for people like you. Once I saw the mass casualties coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I knew I had to take action."
At first, Cannon's inspiration to help other vets took him back to childhood. "One of my fondest memories was playing with the plastic parachute soldier when I was a kid – the one you fold up the chute and toss in the air," he says. "I found a company called U.S. Toy that specializes in things like that and would buy them by the case. I knew I wanted to sell something after my shows to raise funds, and these just seemed to click. They sold like hotcakes – especially to males with the same memories." Most of the money he raised initially was donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, but Cannon also became a supporter of America's VetDogs – The Veteran's K-9 Corps, a nonprofit that provides assistance dogs to disabled veterans and active-duty personnel. Eventually, Cannon's interest in supporting these organizations led him to put together a benefit performance with other comedians, and that became the basis for Comics for Courage. Now, he calls it his "life's work," with 30 shows this past year and tens of thousands of dollars raised over the five years of Comics for Courage events.
If the key to comedy is timing, Cannon's could hardly be better for the Austin event: the weekend before Veterans Day. In returning to the scene of one of his early comedy triumphs – Funniest Person in Austin 1995 – Cannon has tapped fellow FPIA winners Howard Beecher (1997), Bryan Gutmann (2007), and reigning comedy king Ramin Nazer, as well as prince of punch lines Matt Sadler, to perform, with hosting duties taken by Charlie Hodge (Friday) and Ashley Kamrath of ESPN Radio (Saturday). Sponsoring the shows will be the Texas Capital Area Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, a national veterans organization of which Cannon is a member and one of several such groups (AMVETS, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars) with which he maintains special relationships.
"I won't lie to you – we have lost money on events, mostly in the early years," notes Cannon. "Americans have had enough of war, and getting people to refocus on the duty of taking care of wounded warriors can be a difficult sell." But, he adds, "we did a show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and there was a wounded warrior that attended. He was paralyzed from the waist down from a roadside bomb in Iraq. After the show, his mom came up and told us he hadn't had much of a chance to laugh the past year and how we made his night. That is what this is all about."
Comics for Courage's Comedy Extravaganza will take place Friday & Saturday, Nov. 9-10, 8 & 10:30pm, at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research. For more information, call 467-2333 or visit www.capcitycomedy.com.