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TELEVISION REVIEW

Griffin's Iraq tour is surprisingly human

It is an axiom of politics -- and entertainment -- that one cannot be too cynical when dealing with matters of war.

For a comedian like Kathy Griffin, whose humor relies on a particularly acerbic world view, that makes a comedy tour in Iraq a delicate proposition. How do you entertain the troops when they might not appreciate your celebrity-skewering shtick? And how do you shift into do-gooder mode when reality TV portrays you as unpleasantly self-centered?

That is, after all, the big flaw in the Bravo series ``Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List." It's hard to be self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing at the same time, and Griffin seldom strikes the balance. Still, the ``Iraq Tour" episode, which airs tonight at 9, is a worthy endeavor -- if only because shows like this, with current events as a backdrop, often get to the truth as effectively as the most earnest news reports.

One can, for instance, glean the danger in Iraq from the throwaway details: When Griffin's military plane prepares to land in Tikrit, the pilot announces they're going to drop from 23,000 feet to ground-level in seven minutes.

There is also, it seems, the fact that Griffin is here at all; entertainment-starved troops really are down to the D-list, judging from the blank looks Griffin gets from by some soldiers in Kuwait.

Griffin is, indeed, an odd choice for war duty, not least because a big chunk of her natural fan base is technically forbidden from military service. (She acknowledges this herself, onstage in Tikrit: ``Sometimes when I do shows, I'll just come out and say, `Where my gays at?' But not tonight.") Griffin may be here because she cares. She may be here because it's fodder for her Bravo show. But, hey, at least she's here.

And it turns out there's something appealingly human about a comic who -- to cop a sorry pun -- is perilously close to bombing. We watch Griffin falter in Kuwait, fret about her audience reaction, and alter her material. She seems to score best when she and her costars, Michael McDonald of ``Mad TV" and Karri Turner from the defunct ``JAG," revert to their Groundlings improv days.

The glimpse we see is raucous, profane, and very funny, and the troops' reaction seems to shift from shock to awe. Afterward, one private declares it ``highly inappropriate and hilarious. It was exactly what the soldiers needed."

The private goes on to offer the best argument for why war entertainment is important, and patriotic. She lost a good friend two days earlier. She hasn't slept in two days. A two-hour comedy show was her first and best escape. It's tough to be cynical about that.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com

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