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NEWS | July 24, 2015

Comedian pays it forward to military

By SSgt Natasha Stannard 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Fred McKinnon paced before his turn on stage, but he was double-dog dared by a coworker, so there was no turning back.

Luckily for the Hampton, Virginia, native, when the microphone hit his balmy hands, he felt right at home as the crowd at a local comedy club erupted with laughter. For the past two years, the routine of going from nerves to glory hasn't changed.

"If you see me before I go on stage, you'd think 'this guy is a nervous wreck,'" said McKinnon. "I'll be almost sick to my stomach, pacing back and forth, but as soon as I touch the microphone all that goes away."

McKinnon, a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command information technology specialist, started his stand-up routines at various comedy clubs around the Hampton Roads area before the military took a special interest in having him perform for U.S. Air Force Airmen and Soldiers at Joint Base Langley-Eustis clubs and community centers, as well as local Veterans Affairs hospitals and centers. 

"We wanted to bring entertainment to our community," said Azeb Aweke, Fort Eustis Club director. "He's been really great, the whole program is very entertaining. He's very versatile and bases performances on what military members are going through, which is probably why they enjoy it so much."

For McKinnon, a former U.S. Army signal officer, performing at JBLE and VA hospitals and centers isn't just about getting a few laughs, but rather to pay it forward.

"Standing before military crowds provides a sense of honor because I know that I am one of them," said McKinnon. "The things our military members go through to serve our country, including going to war and dealing with issues like substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, are difficult; so to have someone going through those issues come up and say 'hey, you made me laugh' is worth more than any amount of money I can get."

McKinnon also said that much of his success as a comedian is owed to lessons he learned through being a Soldier, as the job required organization, leadership skills and confidence to speak in front of others, as well as the ability to receive critical feedback.

As a comedian, McKinnon said these skills all come into play when he prepares for crowds of different ages and backgrounds at a variety of venues ranging from restaurants to comedy clubs and military gatherings.

"When I was in the military, I always looked to the next level," said McKinnon. "So with comedy, I looked at what the pros were doing and copied them."

One of the biggest aids McKinnon said he picked up on from the start was taking notes, but he took it a step further.

"I would see other comedians writing feverishly on these notepads and wonder what they're doing. Now it's funny because these other comedians come in with these little notepads and I come in with this 50-page binder filled with typed and categorized jokes," said McKinnon, adding that categorization gives him a variety to choose from for his eclectic crowds. "When people see the binder, they usually tell me I'm insane, but to me it's just what the military instilled with attention to detail."

The binder and McKinnon's experience as a military leader have helped him through a few acts that could have gone bad, like when children showed up to an all adult event, he said.

"In the military you're put in positions where you sometimes have to make decisions on the fly and it's the same with comedy." said McKinnon. "If I go into a particular room, I may walk in understanding that it's going to be this type of crowd and assume they're going to like a certain type of joke. If they don't, I need to be able to switch mid-stream because your success is dependent upon the crowd receiving what you have to say."

While McKinnon's versatile style has lead him to open for comedy headliners, McKinnon is happy to continue supporting his hometown and military installations around the world.

"I do it because I love it," said McKinnon, "I'm not going to quit my day job, but I couldn't imagine not making someone laugh because making someone laugh for at least five minutes can change the course of someone's day."

For more information about McKinnon's shows, visit   and