By Alison James
“Early on they were just jokes/stories about stuttering, just to get a laugh. That’s all it was for – just to get a laugh. There was no other reason for doing it.”
Jody Fuller – Opelika native, Army veteran, National Guard member and nationally-acclaimed “stuttering comic” – has greatly expanded his comedy routine, as well his purpose, since his first time doing comedy for a crowd at an open mic night in Birmingham in 2002.
“I always knew – I felt I had the ability to do it,” Fuller said. “You don’t know until you actually get up there and try it. But it was always a dream to try the comedy thing.”
But Fuller was poised for a second stint serving in the military – shortly after that open mic night, he began Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning.
His first period of service in the Army was 1992-1996, two years after he graduated high school.
“Any success I’ve had in life can all be traced back to joining the Army the first time,” Fuller said. “No doubt about that. Those first four years, – I served admirably, I worked at a hospital in Germany and got to do some neat things … but it was just missing something. I needed the direction. I just need to grow up.”
Although he left active duty in 1996 to go to college, he decided to return to the Army, answering the call to serve he felt following the event of Sept. 11, 2001
“When I went back into the Army after college, I did it for all the right reasons – just because I wanted to serve,” Fuller said.
After Officer Candidate School he deployed to Iraq from ’03-’04 – all the while sticking to his dream of doing comedy.
“I did it wherever I was,” Fuller said. “I had some early success there, so that’s when I decided to leave active duty and pursue it full time. But I had so many years of active duty in the Army that it would have been stupid to throw all that away, plus I enjoyed serving, so I continued to serve in the National Guard.”
In 2006 right before he left active duty, Fuller hit a high point in his comedy career, achieving Top Five in an online competition that sent him on an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas to perform in the HBO Comedy Special.
“It was really cool – I enjoyed that,” Fuller said.
But pursuing comedy full time while also serving in the Guard was no easy task.
“Any time I built any momentum, the National Guard pulled me back to deploy,” said Fuller, who was sent to Iraq from ’07-’08 and ’10-’11 with the Guard.
But it’s been full speed ahead for Fuller lately, building a career that can be traced all the way back to his elementary school days in Opelika, where he can remember being “a respectful class clown.”
“I didn’t really disrupt class or cause problems … but people knew me for being the funny guy,” Fuller said. “In my Yearbook, people (would write), ‘Someday we’re going to see you on HBO,’ – that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one day.”
In the past few years he has participated in the LOL comedy tour and in armed forces entertainment in the Middle East as a civilian, along with numerous other appearances. But as his career progressed, he found his stuttering could be comedy and so much more.
“I decided, ‘I can do more than just make people laugh. I can make them laugh but at the same time have a purpose with it, too – have a message, spreading awareness about stuttering,’” Fuller said. “If you tell stories in a humorous manner, people are more likely to remember it.”
Fuller said he now considers his routines to be not so much comedy as “speeches with a heavy dose of humor.” He takes every opportunity to share about the struggles people who stutter face and has also had the opportunity to share his story in several different editions of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”
He recently had the opportunity to open for Jeff Foxworthy in a benefit for the Hudson Family Foundation, something Fuller said was “always a dream.”
“When it was over, everyone was back in the party room having a good time, and I just went and sat in the bleachers in the Auburn Arena,” “Everybody is filing out, and I’m just sitting there, just taking it all in … looking around thinking, ‘I can’t believe this.’ People thought I was crazy when I left active duty Army, making really good money, to pursue this crazy dream.”
As amazing as it was to open for Foxworthy, Fuller said there is one upcoming appearance about which he is even more excited – giving the keynote address at the National Stuttering Association Annual Convention in July in Washington, D.C.
“I know I can make an impact,” Fuller said. “I’m excited about that. I’m as excited, if not more excited, to do this keynote as I’ve been about anything I’ve ever done.”
Comedy isn’t the only way Fuller has tried to impact people. He has also used his notoriety to organize a number of project for veterans – recruiting people to send birthday cards to local vets and holding drive for things like blankets and shoes for vets at Bill Nichols State Veteran’s Home in Alexander City.
“Oftentimes people want to help, but they don’t know how to,” Fuller said. “And a lot of times, when you give to these big organizations, very few of the donations actually trickle down to the veterans themselves.”
He uses Facebook, among other methods, to get his friends and fans involved.
“We kind of forget about those old guys who served 70 years ago, who are responsible for our very way of life today,” Fuller said. “I just like to show my appreciation for the veterans, and others do too. It’s important that any time you see one of those guys at the store wearing a Korean hat or a World War II cap, go up and talk to them. They’ll love it. Just say, ‘Thank you. We appreciate you.’ And if they’re a Vietnam veteran, say ‘Thank you and welcome home.’ They never got that welcome.”
And as if comedy, military service and recognizing veterans isn’t enough, Fuller also stays busy with a growing side-career writing.
“When I started writing for the ‘Observer,’ that’s when I learned, ‘Hey, I really enjoy this,” said Fuller, whose weekly column appears in the “Observer.” “Writing is the one thing you can really do at your own pace. It’s really peaceful – it’s therapeutic.”
Fuller has also flexed his writing skills in the “Chicken Soup” books, in addition to writing for East Alabama Living.
“I’m actually getting ready to start on my book about my life and my journey,” Fuller said. “We grew up poor. My father was a diabetic, he was blind, and he died when I was 8. My parents were divorced when I was 2. The stuttering, the military – my whole motto in life is ‘Adapt and Overcome.’ I’ve had some interesting and unique experiences in life, and the book will be humorous … and hopefully change a life or two along the way.”