Drake Witham's comedy career began at an office Christmas party in a room filled with 200 co-workers. He had them all laughing with devastating impressions of his editors and criticisms of his employer, the Dallas Morning News.
The editors weren't necessarily amused.
It was then that Witham decided it was time to leave journalism behind. Within six months he was in Los Angeles, wowing audiences with his deadpan delivery and razor-sharp wit.
An award-winning journalist, Witham always enjoyed making co-workers laugh. He once organized "pager races" in which two competitors set their rigs to vibrate and dialed furiously, trying to move them to the finish line.
He pulls his humor from growing up in northern Virginia, his Irish-Catholic mother, his drama professor father and being the younger brother of a Navy SEAL. Much of his material comes from the working world where has toiled not only as journalist but as a temp, an SAT proctor and even as a berry picker.
A graduate of the University of Washington, where he was the editor of the "UW Daily," Witham has performed at the Hollywood and Irvine Improvs, the Comedy Store, Laugh Factory, and the Ice House. We was the winner of the 2003 Seattle International Comedy Competition and regularly tours Iraq and Afghanistan entertaining the troops.
The few, the proud, the funny: Stand-up comedy in Iraq
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In July I was offered the gig of a lifetime. In just over two years of doing stand-up, I've performe...In July I was offered the gig of a lifetime. In just over two years of doing stand-up, I've performed at the Hollywood Improv, headlined a c w the country and won the Seattle Comedy Competition.
But none of it matched the offer I got from Rich Davis and Comics on Duty. W. Davis' group has been serving those who serve since 1942, priding itself on going places that the USO and other comedy tows won't, I was one of five comedians he asked to entertain the troops on a 10-day trip to Iraq, hopping from base to base in Black Hawk helicopters.
Family and friends offered subtle tints that maybe it wasn't the best idea.
"You said no, right? my girlfriend stated more than asked.
'Have you lost your mind?' a friend asked. T h y cut people's heads off over there.'
A relative offered to pay me whatever money I was making not to go.
It didn't help that the only people who seemed excited about it were other comedians. 'Can you get this guy my information? I'd love to do it,' was a common response.
I was concerned that the only reason anyone h w s the term Black Hawk is because of a best-selling book and hit movie describing the helicopter’s ability to go down. I learned that shows are sometimes cut short by mortar fire.
But Mr. Davis promised us armed security, accommodations on the bases and Helicopter transports only, no convoys. As a private contractor far the military, he's put together four other tows to Iraq in the past year and said he never felt scared.
I tracked down about eight comedians who had done Comics on Duty tours of up to three weeks. Some said they felt uneasy at times but each of them, including a mother of four, said they w a d go back in a second.
"You’ll regret it e v q day if you don't go,' one said.
After two agonizing days on the phone, seeking the counsel of my parent, brothers and friends, I jumped at the chance. I see it as a once in a lifetime experience, performing in the most dangerous part of the world. It’s part of the career path dating back to Bob Hope's military tours - providing humor when and where the world needs it most. And a field where you have to fight for every dime, the money isn't bad.
But mostly it’s my opportunity to provide something to the men and women on the frontlines. Whether they want to be there or not doesn't matter to me. They are there, risking lives. And if al I can contribute is a brief distraction from the horrors they encounter, then I'll give them my best 20 minutes.
The first show is Friday, in one of Saddam's palaces.
Bombing in Baghdad wasn't a problem for comic
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As stand-up gigs go, a guy can do a lot worse than getting booked to do a weeklong stint in Iraq. ...As stand-up gigs go, a guy can do a lot worse than getting booked to do a weeklong stint in Iraq.
What’s that? There are comedy clubs in Baghdad? No, we’re not talking about headlining the Laugh Factory in Fallujah.
The gig was, of course, performing for the U.S. troops, folds who really need a few chuckles these days.
So Drake Witham, winner of the 2003 Seattle Comedy Competition, this fall endured bombing – the real kind, not the onstage euphemism – the threat of snipers, intense hear, Halliburton mess hall food and audiences packing M-16s to do a grueling 13-show, seven night hitch on the Comics on Duty tour.
Witham’s agent was all for it, but the comic’s family and girlfriend begged him not to go.
“Yeah, they weren’t crazy about me going to was, armed only with jokes,” Witham, 32, said…
A former editor at the University of Washington student paper and former night cops reporter at The Dallas Morning News, Witham quit two and a half years ago to follow his dream of being another Seinfeld.
“I went into the only career that has less stability than journalism,” Witham said, laughing. “My mother was thrilled by the career choice. But I didn’t want to have any regrets, look back and say I wish I’d done that, like a lot of comedians. You go out to LA and you think it’ll be easy until you realize 10 million other people have the same idea.”
But Witham has distinguished himself so far. Hey, the guy has killed in Baghdad and bombed in a Laundromat. What else can you hope for?
Full Story at The News Tribune – November 28, 2004
It’s better than working the crowd at the Laundromat
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VACAVILLE – The slim, Jewish comedian doesn’t mind embracing his culture. In fact, he’s made a rappi...VACAVILLE – The slim, Jewish comedian doesn’t mind embracing his culture. In fact, he’s made a rapping remix of “Hava Nagila.”
“I’m no stranger to bar mitzvahs. I started as a dee jay and came up with lot of different remixes,” said Eric Schwartz, first-place contestant in the San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition…
Apparently, journalism seems to be the foundation of comedy for some. Drake Witham, 31, who worked as a cops reporter for The Dallas Morning News, gave up the beat for a laugh.
“They (the newspaper) had a Christmas party one year and asked me to do a performance. I did impressions of the editors and people were like, ‘oh no, you’re going to get fired’,” said Witham of his start in comedy. “It went over really well, although one editor did cry. The impression was a little too accurate.”
Finding his interest is making people laugh, Witham quit the paper, packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles where he became a “temp” worker to make ends meet.
“That’s how I warn money, much to my mother’s delight,” Witham said in jest. “I’ve dome different things, like work in an insurance office, filing – which I’m quite good at, beauty products and customer service. It’s been good as far as getting material for me.”
Witham is so diversified, he even performed at a Laundromat in Los Angeles…
Full Story at Daily Republic – September 26, 2003
Comedian brings act from Iraq to the Funny Farm
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Witham got his start at an office Christmas Party. As part of a group performing comedians t...Witham got his start at an office Christmas Party.
As part of a group performing comedians traveling throughout Iraq last year. Drake Witham said the stand up comics were given a list of things by the government not to discuss. In the world of comedy, this tantamount to telling the kids where the cookie jar is and leaving the room.
We’re comedians, so we went down the checklist and made sure to touch on all of them,” said Witham calling from Indianapolis. “I didn’t do any Abu Ghraib prison [material] but one of the guys started doing some stuff and we thought this is it. But no one cut his mic.”…
While he’s not a political comedian per se, the 33-year-old performer is finding plenty of material from his Iraq adventure. However, it’s not as easy as you might think. “Its tough to talk about it in a funny way because you don’t want to be making light of it.” Witham said. “But I think I’ve figured out how to do that where I can just share my experiences and still keep the focus on that.”
Full story at The Vindicator – Entertainment – May 29, 2006
Ex-reporter finds success in comedy
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Winner of 2003 Seattle International Comedy Competition to perform at Schooners tonight. Bef...Winner of 2003 Seattle International Comedy Competition to perform at Schooners tonight.
Before Drake Witham became a full-time stand-up comedian two years ago, he as a journalist, whose job was no laughing matter.
“I was working night cops in Dallas for about three years, covering murder and mayhem,” he explained during a recent telephone interview from Dallas airport in Washington D.C
He still writes on occasion for the newspaper…
“I don’t miss going out to car accidents and going up to people’s doors and asking them for pictures of family members that just dies,” he explained. “I was good at that and was respectful and got good stories out of it, but I don’t miss that part of the day.”…
While he wouldn’t turn down TV or movie gigs, Witham is focused on his stand-up act.
“Right now I’m concentrating on getting to that headlining level.” He said. “You can make more money and work more consistently. I’m at a a point where I’m booking everything myself. I can get a little mileage with the Seattle contest, but most of the winners of that contest have become former winners of that contest. There’s no guarantees or set paths. A lot of it is exciting. But it can be frustrating too.
“There are times that I look at the money I was making and the debt I have now. I just wasn’t happy doing what I was doing. I think a lot of (stand-up) is just hanging on as long as you can and just getting better and better.
For reservations or details about Schooners Comedy Night, call (661) 940-7023
Full story at Antelope Valley Press – Showcase – May 29, 2004
Touring comics bring down Sustainer Theater
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BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Airmen and Soldiers got much-needed break Sept. 2 when the Comics On Duty Wor...BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq – Airmen and Soldiers got much-needed break Sept. 2 when the Comics On Duty World Tour performed at Logistic Support Area Anaconda’s Sustainer theater.
Comedian Danny Bevins, Curtis Fortiers, Jim Labriola, Nathan Timmet and Drake Witham performed at the final two shows of their tour at the theater after visiting five different locations in the AOR performing two to three shows at each site.
“It was really good and really funny,” said Senior Airman Aaron Surbaugh, 732nd Civil Engineer Squadron, Detachment 6, who is deployed from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. “It’s really an impressive tour when you consider the amount of shows they’ve put on in such a short amount of time.”…
“I give them a lot of respect for coming there and performing for us.” Said Spc. Charles Howard, Alpha Company, 29th Signal Battalion. “There are a lot of others who could do the same, but just don’t want to make the effort.”
“Plus this really helps with morale,” Spc. Howard continued. “It’s a good break from the norm.”
Laughter in the midst of War
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Kirkland comic joins troupe of comedians to entertain troops in Iraq KRIKLAND – thank you, thank ...Kirkland comic joins troupe of comedians to entertain troops in Iraq
KRIKLAND – thank you, thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It’s great to be here tonight. And hey, what a terrific audience.
Terrific? Well, they are noticeably dirty and tired and every single one of them is carrying a trench knife and an M-16. And they are not smiling. Webster’s definition of terrific, (“adj. In: exciting fear or awe”) seems pretty apt.
So make them laugh.
“Actually, they laughed a lot. And they were so appreciative. Probably the best crowds I ever worked.”
So said Kirkland comedian Drake Witham, who recently returned from a week-long tour of entertaining troops in Iraq. Witham and a troupe of other standup comics went there a s part of the “Comics on Duty “ program. Neither he nor his colleagues in the tour are top bananas – “We needed the money and the experience and they needed guys who would work cheap.” – but the troops didn’t seem to care…
Reporter turns to standup
Witham has been doing standup on and off ever since he graduated from the University of Washington in 1996. A former reporter and editor on the University Daily, he got jobs with the Providence Journal and then the Dallas Morning News. While in Dallas he started entering open mike comedy competitions. The paper held a Christmas party. The organizers asked Witham to do impressions of some of the editors. He did and everybody laughed – everybody except the editors, that is.
“when I told them I was thinking about going into standup full-time, they didn’t try to talk me out of it.” Witham said…
Full story at Kings County Journal – December 20, 2004
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