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Published June 12, 2024

Soldier’s wife turns comedian in his absence

Jan Donahue was experiencing troubles not long after her husband left for Iraq.

;ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) – Not long after Jan Donahue’s husband left for a two-year tour of duty in Iraq, one of her neighbors tied a yellow ribbon around a tree in the Donahue’s yard.

“That’s great – thank you,” Donahue said during a standup routine in front of a military crowd at a Holiday Inn in Rochester. “Now, how about tying one of those yellow ribbons on my dog and walking him around the friggin’ block?”

The 49-year-old Minnesota mother is trying to find humor in the fears and frustrations of being a soldier’s wife.

With help from a Los Angeles comedy coach, she has developed a standup routine and has been performing it in front of military audiences around the country. And while her husband is now back from Iraq, she hopes to make a career out of telling jokes.

Her new line of work grew out of her misery – a husband absent for much of the last five years, two belligerent teenage boys, a mountain of debt, her own health problems, including a deepening depression.

“Bad for life, good for comedy,” said Judy Carter, the comedy coach who helped Donahue with her act. “When people come to me they think they’re going to be talking about the good things in their life – no. Tell us about your humiliations, the painful things, the bad day.”

Among other things, Donahue riffs on the hardships at home: “When your husband’s deployed, you’ve got to pick up the slack and do different things. Everybody’s got to take their part. My kitchen floor’s dirty – the dog’s not doing his job.”

And she cracks wise about those who have returned home: “What do they teach those soldiers in Iraq? How to snore louder? How to steal the covers? How to talk in your sleep?”

A year ago, Donahue didn’t much see the humor in her situation. Her husband, Kevin Donahue, was first called up in 2002, when the couple’s sons were 13 and 15. He was stationed in England in a support role for the fighting in Afghanistan.

Kevin returned to their home in the Minnesota town of Windom about a year later, but then got called up again for training camp and then duty in Iraq. He would be gone almost two years.

Not long after her husband left, Donahue developed kidney stones and lost her job with the state Department of Transportation. Her sons were getting in trouble with the law.

“I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to do anything,” she said. “I almost didn’t want to live anymore, except I had to for my boys and my husband. But I didn’t know what I was going to do, because everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong.”

In early 2007, the Minnesota National Guard learned that many of its soldiers in Iraq would see their tours extended. The guard made counselors available to family members, and Donahue – by now at her wit’s end – went to see one.

“She said, ‘What do you want to do in life?'” Donahue recalled. “I said I’ve always wanted to be a comic, but I’ll never do that. But a week later she had me at a family readiness group, doing some comedy.”

Donahue said her base fee has now climbed to $3,500.

Donahue’s humor seemed to connect with some of those in the audience in Rochester.

“When you think about your loved one, you do get sad, mostly,” said Laura Strickland, whose 22-year-old son, Kyle, is due home soon after a year in Iraq. “It’s nice to get a reminder that it’s OK to remember the funny things, the silly things.”

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