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Move Over, Sammich Jokes: Women Make Their Mark on Military Humor

Marine Corps veteran Kate Campbell, a writer for the Duffel Blog, is also an executive assistant in Comedy Central's production department.
Marine Corps veteran Kate Campbell, a writer for the Duffel Blog, is also an executive assistant in Comedy Central's production department.

With a male-dominated population and rough-hewn, irreverent culture, the military may be the only sector of American life where "Make me a sandwich, woman!" is still a reliable punchline. In the social media era, jokes that used to get tossed around the smoke pit now appear on Facebook groups, where women Marines are called wookies, wives are called dependapotamuses, and women are either ogled or told to get back in the kitchen.

But readers of the Duffel Blog -- a wickedly funny military-centric answer to the mainstream satirical newspaper The Onion -- might be surprised to learn that some of their favorite stories are written by women.

A recent headline, "Marine Thrills Family with Surprise Homecoming from Strip Club," was dreamed up by a woman Army officer who goes by the nom de plume "BlondesOverBaghdad."

She started writing for the Duffel Blog in early 2015. And while she sometimes takes on topics relevant to women in uniform, such as her January story, "First Cavalrywoman Looking Forward to All the Ponies," she spends more time writing stories that slyly needle the National Guard.

The officer, who requested her name not be used because she remains on active duty, told Military.com she was surprised, when she began writing for the Duffel Blog, to find she was the only woman currently on the team. But that wasn't a particularly new experience.

"In my military career, I found myself in situations where I was the only woman in the room a lot," she said. "There's apprehension there; at some level there's a lot of fear there. And fear is actually a good starting point to humor. There's an uncomfortable element to humor."

There have been moments of tension. When she confronted another author on a headline that she felt was more sexist than it was funny, she did so apprehensively, but her feedback was well received.

"Now that author is one of my best friends in the group," she said. "He's also like, 'What can we do to get people to stop making female service members "the other"?'"

It's also fun to flip the script, she added. While male troops and veterans joke about "deployment goggles" that make the few women they may see downrange look exceptionally attractive, BlondesOverBaghdad wrote about a speed-dating event hosted by women soldiers on deployment to allow them to reject their many suitors more easily.

She is now joined on the Duffel Blog staff by Kate Campbell, a 29-year-old Marine veteran who started writing for the site last April. Campbell, who holds a day job as an executive assistant in Comedy Central's production department, authors some of the more inventive pieces on the site -- such as one about the Taliban paying for its spring fighting offensive with a bake sale -- but isn't afraid to indulge in old-fashioned toilet humor.

Her piece about a Marine delivering a 12-pound Meal-Ready-to-Eat "food baby" after a field exercise is stomach-churningly hilarious.

Campbell, who served as a military police officer and left the Corps in 2012 as a corporal, said she often found herself one of only a few women in a male-dominated environment. She used jokes to break the ice, she said, particularly around male colleagues who were unsure how to behave around her.

"Humor was, I wouldn't say a coping mechanism, but it was definitely something I used. If I could make these people laugh, I could fit in, basically," she said. "I tried to be funny and keep them laughing."

Campbell previously participated in a veteran immersion program hosted by Comedy Central's The Daily Show, and relished the chance to see the show's writers in action. At the Duffel Blog, she said, she enjoys the similarly collaborative, creative atmosphere, and the chance to bring another perspective to the table.

"Anytime you're going to have new viewpoints added in the mix, you're going to have better ideas, more creativity," Campbell said. "We don't shove it down anyone's throats that we're women."

Women are also well-represented in the creative team behind FUBAR, an off-color card game akin to Cards Against Humanity that was dreamed up by BlondesOverBaghdad and another collaborator. Campbell said she is contributing to the Marine Corps version of the game.

While both writers are more interested in nailing the punchline than sending a message, they see ways that humor can poke at the infamous boys' club culture of the military.

"If you're going to say something that's hard, you can say it with a joke," BlondesOverBaghdad said. "One of my favorite pictures has a sign that says 'Boys' tree house -- no girls allowed.' It's photo-shopped to look like 75th Ranger Regiment. It gives you a space to talk about it without getting too serious."

Duffel Blog founder Paul Szoldra told Military.com that bringing women on board as writers was one of the best five decisions he made since he launched the site in 2012. A Marine infantry veteran, Szoldra said he had a lot of experience with all-male environments, but welcomed other voices to the team.

"It forces the men in the group to actually have better arguments for stuff," Szoldra said, noting that comedy writing, like the military, remains a male-dominated field. "You kind of get an echo chamber of the man's experience."

Adding female writers, he said, has also allowed the site to find new sources of humor. He mentioned a story by BlondesOverBaghdad ranking the top five historical "Hottest Sergeants Major of the Army" as something the straight male writers of the Duffel Blog wouldn't have thought to tackle.

Is this broader approach to humor changing culture? Szoldra isn't sure. But he suggested that new perspectives couched in humor could be provocative for all the right reasons.

"I can really empathize with a Marine grunt who says that women don't need to be around because, it's what he's used to," Szoldra said. "But sometimes it's good to have your views challenged. You'd be surprised by what they can bring to the table."

BlondesOverBaghdad said she has been pleasantly surprised at the positive feedback she has received since she started writing for the site.

"I think there's always going to be strain [of the military population] interested in sandwich jokes and American flag bikinis," she said. "But I've been really surprised getting on Twitter and working on some other things, how many people reach out and want [my] point of view."

--Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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