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Back From Iraq, Marine Aims for Laughs as a Comic

If the young Woody Allen had been a tough guy, he might have been something like David Rosner. A study in seeming contradictions, Rosner is a stand-up comic and a reserve Marine Corps major — a self-described “recovered hypochondriac” who served in the first Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. For the latter, he was deployed six months in Iraq and Kuwait during 2003 as an intelligence officer, for which his duties included gathering information to make and maintain expeditionary airfields.

“I know what you’re thinking. Jewish? Marine? This guy doesn’t have to go to war. He can get a note from his mother,” Rosner deadpanned while performing stand-up on a recent night at The Cocktail Room, a club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “My mom wrote a note to the commandant of the Marine Corps: Please excuse David from night operations. He needs to study for the MCAT or LSAT. Doesn’t matter which, as long as he gets in. Hope you liked the rugelach. Enjoy the enclosed dehydrated matzo ball soup.”

Stateside for the past year, Rosner, 39, has resumed his pursuit of a career in show business that includes stand-up, writing, acting and public speaking. His long-term goal is to host his own late-night talk show, and to that end, he performs comedy at various clubs and synagogues around the country. He writes all his own material, which has a Borscht Belt-meets-politically incorrect, street smart sensibility, incorporating everything from JDate to his ex-wife’s lesbianism. At present he runs and emcees occasional comedy benefits at the cocktail room. On Monday nights he’s at Yello, a Chinatown club, where he assembles a diverse array of comics including an ex-con and a Connecticut soccer mom.

Rosner has also worked as a freelance comedy writer; in 1999, he sold to Comedy Central’s “The Man Show” a sketch about approaching female strangers on the street and propositioning them. Host Jimmy Kimmel performed it on the program. Rosner will perform a one-man show July 21 called “David Rosner, U.S. Marine Veteran, Comedian, Jew: The Non-Formulary” at the Makor/Steinhardt Center in New York. The term “nonformulary” refers to a prescription drug that is not covered under most medical plans. Rosner feels that the term reflects well his atypical trajectory.

“I feel I’m not stereotypical, in that I’m a Jew who has been in the Marines, a comedian who is a Marine and a Jew from New Mexico,” he said. “Also, I chose the title because I’m a snob when it comes to prescription medications. I want the best and most exotic.” It does seem that in his life as well as in his career, Rosner refuses to fit in neatly. He is a political conservative whose fellow comics are mostly liberals with whom he sometimes spars about the war. He supports President Bush’s decisions to invade Iraq and keep forces there, adding that recent developments in the Middle East have reinforced his political convictions.

“The long-term goals [of the war on terror] are falling into place,” he told the Forward. “The Lebanese people are protesting to get rid of Syrian corruption, Egypt is calling for elections and we’re seeing imams issue decrees that terrorism is against Islam.”

Rosner has appeared twice in recent months as a panelist on “It’s Your Call With Lynn Doyle,” a talk show on the Comcast Cable network’s CN8 that can be seen by 6 million viewers. The subjects were American service members who have died in Iraq and the possibility of a military draft.

So how did a funny Jewish boy gravitate toward the Marines in the first place?

As a teenager growing up in Albuquerque, N.M., he asked his parents to send him to a military school, the New Mexico Military Institute, located in Roswell. “We were experiencing a lot of family chaos, and Dave decided he wanted some structure,” said Rosner’s brother Rick, now a staff writer for ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” He added, “[Military school’s] an awful place, unless you’re looking to toughen up.”

The desire to combat antisemitism in a post-Holocaust world has, for Rosner, been a lifelong motivating force. “I wanted to fight antisemitism, to show the good ol’ boys that Jews don’t have horns on their heads and we do serve,” he said. “I found out that actually there are more Jews in the Marine Corps than people realize.”

In his duties as a Marine, as in civilian life, Rosner can be more than one thing, according to Eric Walters, a colonel with whom he served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as on reserve duty in Miramar, Calif., and Okinawa, Japan. “Dave was always very serious around me,” Walters said, “There is no doubt in my mind [that his work in Operation Iraqi Freedom] saved lives.” However, Walters added that he did hear a story from another officer about Rosner showing up for an active duty stint wearing false “Goofy” teeth.

On a recent evening at Yello, Rosner sparred with the crowd. He doesn’t shy away from buttonholing Jews in the audience. “What do you do?” he asked two 40ish women. “Really? You’re a head huntah? And you’re a substitute teachah? There are too many Jewish women here; it’s makin’ me nervous. Where are the shiksas? Show me the shiksas!” A blond woman tentatively raised her hand. “Thank you, ma’am, thank you; now let’s go have a ham and Swiss.”

Rosner’s fellow comics appreciate his honesty.

“I think because he’s been in the Marines, Dave’s been exposed to different kinds of people,” said Daryl Wright, a stand-up comic and ex-con who performs at Rosner’s room at Yello. “White comics that have been around black people a whole lot aren’t afraid. His room is not like other comedy rooms, where people are afraid, and they say, ‘Anything but that —’ Every time I come to Dave’s room, it’s fun and it’s freedom. He’s been around. That’s why I love Dave.”

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