Killer Comic

Updated: October 18, 2012

By Kelly Crigger


“Oh that’s clever…make fun of the trained killer in the room.”

It’s my favorite line. I whip it out whenever someone gives me shit or tries to rattle me. And being 6’1 and 240 pounds, it usually works.

Only it’s not my line. It’s from an episode of the absurdly funny sitcom Gary Unmarried that Rob Riggle starred in with Jay Mohr from 2008 – 2010. The great thing about that line is that it wasn’t written by some actor trying to be someone he’s not, but by a Marine with multiple deployments under his belt, making it all the sweeter.

You see, Rob Riggle the actor is also Rob Riggle the Marine Lieutenant Colonel with over 20 years of service to his credit on active duty and in the Reserves. But Rob Riggle the actor almost didn’t happen. After graduating from Kansas University in 1992 he joined the Marines to be a pilot and was on his way to making that dream happen when the comedy bug bit him. He’d been active in comedy clubs and film and knew deep down he could make a living at it as long as he completely dedicated himself to a life of entertaining others. And therein lied the problem.

“There’s something that sticks in my craw about quitting,” he recalls looking back on the decision to leave flight school. “So when I did it I had a pep talk with myself. I said that it had to count. It had to matter. I had to accomplish X, Y, and Z or it wouldn’t be worthwhile.”

After seven years of midnight shows in front of nine drunks in a basement and less pay than a cheerleader, doubt was Riggle’s roommate. Turning down the life of a Marine fighter pilot seemed as bad as turning down a nightcap with Sophia Vergara, but he wasn’t going to trade in his one-liners for pom-poms.

“That was good stuff too,” he says. “I was paying my dues and working my way up. I’d be riding the subway home after a small show hoping it will pay off one night and then I’d have a great show in front of a lot of people the next night and knew I was doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing is always the hardest of any set of choices and comedy is no different. Talking with Riggle his voice is the tired, haggard tone of someone who’s been burning the midnight oil to slake an unquenchable thirst to get more out of life. He’s driven; unwilling to be satisfied with mediocrity…a characteristic that any alpha male can relate to. And he’s spent his fare share with many of them.

“I miss [active duty] on a people level,” Riggle says. “In the Marine Corps I was used to people doing what they said and saying what they mean. There was a higher purpose and calling in the Corps. Everyone works toward accomplishing something together and there’s a common goal. In entertainment the same isn’t always true. You’re in it for yourself in Hollywood.”

But he doesn’t blame the backstabbers and weasels of Tinseltown (I’ll go ahead and say it if he won’t) for the materialism and individualism of entertainment. He blames the system. A system created by the people’s own demands for entertainment where billions of dollars are at stake and actors and musicians are worshipped, followed, stalked, and obsessed over like thunder-wielding demi Gods. The stakes in entertainment are so high that it causes many to violate their own moral standing or come face to face with the blistering reality that they don’t have one. Their only responsibility is to themselves and their bank accounts, but it’s not anyone’s fault.

“It’s our own,” Riggle says. “It’s the chicken and the egg. I read a Wall Street Journal article about a girl who was targeted by the Talban for execution. She was fourteen and advocating educating girls. They sent an assassin to her house and shot her in the neck and the face and tried to kill her for it. A fourteen year-old girl! She survived, but it incensed me, so I tweeted it and maybe a handful of people noticed, but for the most part no one said much. But I tweet about filming a new movie with Johnny Knoxville and my twitter lights up.”

Besides Knoxville, who he starred alongside in “Nature Calls,” Riggle’s career has run the gambit from stand up clubs to Nickelodeon TV to Saturday Night Live and now the comic relief on Fox’s NFL Pregame Show. He’s been in highly successful productions like Talladega Nights, The Hangover, Arrested Development, American Dad, and The Office and one-and-done sitcoms like Straight Plan for the Gay Man. The one thing that’s been consistent about his life is hard work, even if the paychecks aren’t.

“I liked getting paid twice a month in the Corps. Out here [in Hollywood] you eat what you kill. You constantly have to produce. The times can get lean, so you have to go get it every day.”

No matter how lean the times get or how empty his comedy account is, Riggle rarely uses his military background as material with two exceptions: The absurdly funny short video “The Man Who Killed Bin Laden,” (filmed the day after the real death of OBL) and a 2008 Daily Show skit in which he dressed as a hippie and went undercover to expose the liberal group Code Pink and their demonstration to have the Marine Recruiting station in Berkley removed (an event that Ranger Up made a shirt to commemorate).

“I got really angry at what was going on down there,” Riggle says. “The guys in Berkley were getting shit from every side, so I told John Stewart that I wanted to do something about it and he was like, ‘go do it.’

During this video Riggle revealed that he was in fact a Marine, but for the most part he keeps his two worlds separate, not playing a military character or writing military experiences into his comedy…for a reason.

“When you’re leading Marines you don’t screw around so the comedy is limited in uniform. And when you’re a comedian you can’t be heavy handed and come across with tales of gore or material that people won’t understand, so I try to keep them separate.”

But that separation line gets blurred when it comes to a joke that may not be in line with the Corps or his standing as an officer. In those cases Riggle refuses to edit himself and defers to his own judgment.

“Part of being a comedian is being a jackass, so I don’t worry about the officer corps having any issue with anything I say. They’re big boys. In the end funny trumps all.”

Riggle’s funny has been trumping all for several years while he continued to serve in the Marine Reserves as a Public Affairs Officer that’s taken him from Kosovo to Liberia to Afghanistan. In all of those deployments his career as a performer was interrupted and the dream was delayed, pushed to the side by the belligerent activities of the Taliban, KLA, or Liberian Rebels. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. Those were the experiences that reinforced his beliefs and built a sincere appreciation for the man on his right and left, whether they were congregated around a card table or a fighting position.

It also gave him perspective on the life of a professional comedian because no matter what crap hole on earth the Corps sent him to, he had an out. He could come back to the USA when the mission was over while the local population stayed behind and lived out their own little horror stories. It instilled a perspective of what is important and what is not and made clear that no matter how bad the life of a struggling comic was, it could be much worse.

That’s one reason he kept serving even when he didn’t have to; to help others who couldn’t help themselves. There was a tangible reward for staying in uniform even if it delayed his dream and sapped his pocketbook. Riggle had several opportunities to get out, but decided to stay in and balance his two worlds for a simple reason.

“I just love the Corps. I love the brotherhood, the camaraderie. I thank anyone in uniform who serves their fellow man. I love this country for so many reasons. We have such a great country here and it’s worth defending and it’s worth sacrificing for.”

Riggle’s sacrifice is coming to an end. He once made the arduous decision to forego flight school to pursue acting and now faces the equally daunting decision of retirement. The two worlds he so successfully balanced for so long are out of whack. Success has made it increasingly difficult to knock out Reserve drills and maintain a hectic, here-today-gone-tomorrow acting schedule. As someone who’s recently retired I know how agonizing it will be for him to take off the uniform, but that’s the dilemma we all face – making decisions that we have to stick with no matter what the outcome.

“You have to make choices for your life and [the Marines] was mine. Really that’s what anything comes down to is making the decision to do something and following through with it,” he says.

Regets? None. Something he would change? One thing.

“I get recognized more now so there’s these moments when people stare and don’t say anything. You’ll see them looking at you and they might say something like, ‘aren’t you that guy from…?’ It’s a series of little awkward engagements. We need more nice moments, like a picture with a fan or ‘hey I liked what you did in this movie or that skit.'”

Take that as a coaching tip if you ever see Rob Riggle in public. Be nice and thank him for serving his country or for something he said that made you laugh. But whatever you do, don’t make fun of this trained killer in the room.

The Daily Show Skit, Marines in Berkley

The Navy SEAL Who Shot Osama Bin Laden


Rob Riggle website

Rob Riggle on Fox Sports






  1. Jack Mandaville

    October 18, 2012 at 1:42 am

    That Berkley piece for The Daily Show made me an instant fan–but most of us have never had the opportunity to learn anything else about him. This is the Rob Riggle everyone in the Military/Vet community has been waiting to see. I’m glad to know there is such a top-notch character in the entertainment industry… and that he’s a Marine that keeps it real even when people expect more material things from him.

    Fantastic interview!

  2. Cobalt Spider

    October 18, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Rob Riggle is also a pitch man for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. As ironic as it sounds, alot of ex-military and active duty types enjoy shooting up stuff on the XBox 360. People are the most dangerous opponents and that game ranks pretty high on the “blowing off steam” without real explosives involved

    Any of the promo videos have rob in full kit “talking up the troops”. I knew him from the Daily show and didn’t realize he was an actual Marine Reservist. Ohh Rah! NICE.

  3. Mr. Twisted

    October 18, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Like Jack said, I knew him from the Daily Show/Berkeley skit which was, in all honesty, one of the funnier things I’ve ever seen on television. I found out he was a Marine Corps officer shortly after and that impressed me even more.

    Great interview and a great opportunity to find out more about a guy we need more of. Thanks, KC!

  4. Levi Newman

    October 19, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Hey Kelly, I tried linking to this over on VUN and it just brings up a video of Riggle, not your story. Any ideas? I want to add it but the video isn’t doing you any good. Let me know.


  5. Mad Medic

    October 22, 2012 at 2:28 am

    Comedy is actually harder than strait drama, because it’s all about timing. You can fake a lot of things, but being funny isn’t one of those things you can fake.

  6. Eric

    October 23, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Good shit. Rob Riggle is a funny mother fucker.

  7. M. Schlitz

    January 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I have a lot of friends who are Veterans trying to break into acting. Something you might not know is how Rob Riggle is helping other Veterans become successful. He acts as a mentor, gives speeches, and sets the example. I was invited to attend one of his talks and if I could have changed my schedule I’m sure I would have been impressed. Hands down he is making the Veteran Community proud.

    Great Article Kelly

  8. EngineerChick

    January 1, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    A Marine, fellow Jayhawk (KU grad) and hot as hell – what’s not to love?? (yes, I’m female, so I’m allowed to say he’s hot as hell – HE IS!!)

    I also received my commission from a ROTC program at KU, although mine was from the top floor of the Military Science Building (Army), while Rob’s was from the bottom floor (Navy – Marine Option). Seriously, this man totally rocks!! He’s come back to KU several times, most recently for Late Night in the Phog (the kickoff of basketball season, and yes I spelled Phog correctly – google Phog Allen if you don’t believe me)

    Rob also graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School 3 years ahead of my brother, and while my dad was principal there – yep, I’ve been a fan for years!!

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