Inside DOD   Partnerships

'The Office' Actor Craig Robinson Does Q&A With Overseas Troops

May 12, 2020 | BY Katie Lange, DOD News

Laughter is something our deployed troops don’t get enough of, and it’s also something you don’t have to be in person to give. So, when actor and comedian Craig Robinson joined several service members in a virtual chat recently, the laughs that came with it were much appreciated.

Through the USO, Robinson did a live online question-and-answer session with soldiers stationed at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. Other service members in undisclosed locations joined in for the online chat.

Two men are seen in boxes on a computer screen, while a third screen shows socially-distanced soldiers.
Actor Craig Robinson laughs with troops stationed at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, during a USO virtual question-and-answer session.
Two men are seen in boxes on a computer screen, while a third screen shows socially-distanced soldiers.
Craig Robinson USO
Actor Craig Robinson laughs with troops stationed at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, during a USO virtual question-and-answer session.
Photo By: USO
VIRIN: 200430-O-ZZ999-901

Naturally, they asked Robinson hard-hitting questions about his career.

“They wanted to know about ‘The Office,’ ‘Brooklyn 99’ and ‘This Is the End,’” Robinson said, referring to the popular TV shows and film that made him famous. As for the most common questions he gets: “They always want me to sing the ‘Out of Paper’ song, or they ask, ‘What’s Steve Carell like?,’ or, ‘If you could get into a hot tub time machine, where would you go?’”

Several virtual chats and events with various stars are in the works for the USO. The organization has pivoted from its live shows and tours in an effort to keep service members and entertainers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four men and one woman hold a USO flag with hundreds of troops in the background.
Craig Robinson joined an all-star group of entertainers -- including Al Roker, Jay Leno, Iliza Shlesinger and Kevin Eubanks -- in October 2014 as part of the “Today” Show USO Comedy Tour, which traveled to the Middle East.
Four men and one woman hold a USO flag with hundreds of troops in the background.
Craig Robinson USO
Craig Robinson joined an all-star group of entertainers -- including Al Roker, Jay Leno, Iliza Shlesinger and Kevin Eubanks -- in October 2014 as part of the “Today” Show USO Comedy Tour, which traveled to the Middle East.
Photo By: USO
VIRIN: 141001-O-ZZ999-115

Robinson never served in the military, but he had family members who did. In 2014, he joined several other celebrities on the “Today” Show USO Comedy Tour, which took them to Afghanistan to entertain deployed troops. When the USO called this year to see if he would do a virtual Q&A, he didn’t hesitate.

“It was an honor to be a part of that,” the 49-year-old comedian said. “These are people that it’s important to connect with. They’re laying their lives down for us each and every day.”

“That Quickly Bonded Us”

Robinson’s first time visiting service members was definitely memorable. During that 2014 USO tour to Afghanistan, there was an incident that he said quickly brought him closer to the deployed troops.

“They give you the rules before you get off the plane: ‘If you hear the siren, hit the ground,’” Robinson said of the instructions he and other entertainers received when they arrived at Bagram Airfield.

A man plays a keyboard and sings in front of a giant screen that says “USO.”
Actor Craig Robinson sings as part of his stand-up comedy/musical act during The “Today” Show USO Comedy Tour held at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Oct. 1, 2014.
A man plays a keyboard and sings in front of a giant screen that says “USO.”
Craig Robinson USO
Actor Craig Robinson sings as part of his stand-up comedy/musical act during The “Today” Show USO Comedy Tour held at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Oct. 1, 2014.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Luksa
VIRIN: 141001-A-QR427-487

After touring the post and meeting with service members, Robinson said he was setting up his keyboard on a high stage when those warnings became reality.

“One of those sirens went off, and everybody hit the ground,” he remembered. “And you don’t need a siren to tell you to hit the ground when everybody hits the ground. You just automatically do it.”

He said he ended up crawling off the high stage to get down to everyone else’s level.

“It was easily the most interesting moment of my life,” Robinson said. “It was a scare, but … it definitely lit the show up and took us to another place. It quickly bonded us.”

The Gift of Laughs … and Music

Before making it big in Hollywood, Robinson was a music teacher. He has a master’s degree in music education with a focus on piano, which is likely why music numbers are often intertwined into his roles. A keyboard was prevalent in his 2014 USO show, too – something he said led to a debate among the show’s entertainers.

“I was like, ‘I think I'm going to play the Star-Spangled Banner for the soldiers.’ And a couple of people were like, ‘I don't know, that's kind of like a call to war, man. It might be somber,’” Robinson remembered. “But I had done it before, and that night I ended up doing it, and it went over like gangbusters. It was a beautiful thing.”

Two men are seen in boxes on a computer screen, while a third screen shows socially-distanced soldiers.
Craig Robinson USO
Actor Craig Robinson laughs with troops stationed at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, during a USO virtual question-and-answer session.
Photo By: USO
VIRIN: 200430-O-ZZ999-772

The experience made him want to do more for our troops.

“I think this is important and special,” Robinson said. “I would love to do more Zoom calls. I would love to go do shows on bases and visit more.”

Asked if he might attempt to give service members a music lesson at future virtual events, he said he hadn’t even considered it.

“That would be interesting. But I would really have to think that out, how to do it,” he said.

We’ll give him a little time to think that over. We would love to see it happen!