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30-day comedy marathon will raise funds for veterans’ mental health nonprofit

For years, Chris Shaw has thought of comedy as a source of healing. Now he hopes that comedy can also be a source of philanthropy.

The That Pack, from left to right: "Fancy Ray" McCloney, John Bush, Rob Benton and Chris Shaw.
Photo by Wendy Maybury

For years, Chris Shaw has thought of comedy as a source of healing. Now he hopes that comedy can also be a source of philanthropy.

In October, Shaw and three other Twin Cities comedians — John Bush, “Fancy Ray” McCloney and Rob Benton — will travel across Minnesota on a 30-day, 30-show comedy marathon, holding one performance each night at local VFWs and American Legions until they wrap up on Veterans Day in Minneapolis.

Proceeds from the tour, known as Humor for Heroes, will support the Lone Survivor Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit that provides support for veterans and their families in the form of all-expenses-paid healing retreats for individuals with combat-related PTSD, mild traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma.

In search of healing

A retired Navy veteran, Shaw went on a Lone Survivor retreat last year; the experience was life changing.

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“The foundation really takes care of you,” he said. “You call them, you put yourself on the list for the next available slot. Once you’re in, they pay for everything. They fly you down there. They meet you at the airport. They bring you to the retreat. They feed you. You are there for five days. If you show up with nothing in your hands, just the clothes on your back, they’ll take care of you. It’s one of those rare opportunities to just focus on getting better.”

Shaw has battled addiction and mental illness for years. He first became inspired to help others dealing with similar issues when he was in treatment for addiction at the Minneapolis VA Hospital. While he was there he met a vet who worked as a peer support specialist. Shaw decided that someday he wanted to do the same kind of work, so after completing his addiction treatment he went on to become a certified peer support specialist.

He figured that his military experience combined with his struggles with addiction, bipolar disorder and anxiety would make him relatable to his clients. His sense of humor would also come in handy.

“I thought, ‘When I have a handle on things I think I should be doing this kind of work,’ ” Shaw said. “ ‘I should be helping people get better.’ I already feel like that is part of what I do with my comedy: When you make somebody laugh, they’re more likely to listen to what you’re trying to tell them.”

Tour takes shape

Because he felt such a deep debt to Lone Survivor for helping him on his path to healing, Shaw came up with the idea of raising funds to support the organization in the only way he knew how: by making people laugh.

Earlier this year, when he was in Texas doing comedy at Texas Frog Fest, Shaw reconnected with staff members from Lone Survivor Foundation. 

“I told them, ‘I’d love to go home to Minnesota and raise some awareness and funds for your organization by doing comedy.’ They said, ‘Anything you can do for us we’d love.’ So I got in touch with a couple of buddies, told them I wanted to do a comedy tour and raise some money.” 

It didn’t take long for Shaw to get Bush, McCloney and Benton on board with the idea.

Shaw and Benton were already in the process of cooking up a comedy show.

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“Rob said, ‘I’d love to do this thing where four of us do a new version of the Rat Pack. We’ll call it the ‘That Pack.’ We’ll do modern versions of Rat Pack songs, some skits, our own comedy, our own characters.’”

When Shaw proposed Humor for Heroes, this “retro” approach felt perfect for the tour’s intended audience.

“I think veterans who frequent VFWs would like something like that,” he said. “They know the Rat Pack. They love that kind of thing — that song and dance, old Catskills humor. So I said, ‘Let’s make this tour have a little meat to it. Let’s do 30 shows in 30 different towns in 30 days. And let’s have those 30 days end in Minneapolis on Veterans Day.’ They all said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

From big city to small towns

Humor for Heroes will kick off with a free private preview event on Oct. 13 for patients at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis. The show will open to the general public on Oct. 14 at the Uptown VFW, at 2916 Lyndale Avenue S.

“It’s a very cool room,” Shaw said. “It’s one of the VFWs that have been turned into a cool place to hang out. This is where the young crowd hangs out. It is going to be a fun night.”

Immediately after the Minneapolis shows, the That Pack heads out of town. “We’ll jump on a bus and we’re on the road,” Shaw said.

Because all four members of the group are busy working comedians, they haven’t yet had time to get together to fine-tune their routine. For the first few gigs at least, the show should have an easy, improvisational feel.

“We’re a bunch of guys who normally work solo,” Shaw explained. Because of that, he added, “We are not going to have a lot of time to practice anything. We’re all working and on the road a lot between now and the beginning of the tour. Right now we talk on the phone twice a week and go through the schedule of the show. We haven’t been able to practice face-to-face. We won’t be together in a room until the Thursday the 12th.  We’ll have a day and a half to practice. Then we go for it.”

All about the money

Humor for Heroes’ fundraising goal is $50,000. Shaw thinks that is achievable.

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“We’re going to 30 cities,” he said. “We have picked places that have a minimum of 100 seats.” Even though some of the shows are in smaller towns, it wasn’t hard to find venues of that size.

“Some of these small towns have American Legions or VFWs that are the only place in town that ha a big room,” Shaw said. “The VFW in Princeton, for instance, has 350 seats in it.”

Tickets will be an affordable $10, with the exception of the Uptown VFW show, where prices jump to $15. If the That Pack draws a healthy crowd every night, revenues should be good. 

“The post keeps money from food and liquor sales,” Shaw said. “We will sell merchandise. We’ll also have a T-shirt for sale that will be unique to the tour. Everything else goes to Lone Survivor. I’m hoping the four of us will have some laughs, raise some cash — and not kill each other before the month is over.”