CLAYTON: Former firefighter uses comedy to cope with tragedy - WSMV Channel 4

Former firefighter uses comedy to cope with tragedy

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Comedian Travis Howze turned to comedy as a way to cope after losing nine of his fellow firefighters in a fire in 2007. Comedian Travis Howze turned to comedy as a way to cope after losing nine of his fellow firefighters in a fire in 2007.
CLAYTON, N.C. -

Comedian Travis Howze is in the comedy hot seat every time he steps on stage. After years as a firefighter, policeman and Marine, he is used to the heat. But his career hasn't always been a laughing matter.

Howze, who performed at Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club in Clayton Saturday night, turned to comedy as a way to cope after losing nine of his fellow firefighters in a Charleston sofa store fire in 2007.

"I have seen the worst of the worst, or so I thought," he said. "When you're assigned to a team that I was assigned to, where you have to go in and retrieve your friends after they've perished and see them in the conditions that I had to see them in, there's no words that I have that can explain that. I just have those memories."

He said the loss pushed him into alcoholism and depression and he began struggling with post-traumatic stress and survivor's guilt.

"Eventually my symptoms took a toll and caused me to have to leave the job, so I went into comedy full time," he said.

It may seem to be a strange jump, but Howze said his "Funny Under Fire" standup act was his way to take a stand against the pain.

"Comedy was the only thing that made me feel good. So, I put down the bottle, stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided I deserved to have a happy life," he said.

The memories are still there, carried on his sleeve in the form of a tattoo -- nine stars for his nine comrades lost.

"Before every performance, I get up and hopefully they're looking over me, and if nobody else is giving me a 'standing O,' then hopefully they are," Howze said.

A standing ovation helps in his continued healing and is even better, he said, when he helps someone else.

"After the show, sometimes I have people say, 'Thank you so much. We needed that.' That truly means a lot because something else was going on in their life that they were able to escape from. I understand that. I've been there," he said.

Howze is now on the road 20 to 40 weeks out of the year performing his standup routine and connects with fans through social media and funnyunderfire.com.

He said a firefighting group has contacted him about helping with a new program aimed at raising awareness of mental health for emergency responders.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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