By Molly Fincher, World Ark writer
Doing good by donating money or volunteering a few hours didn’t seem nearly extreme enough for comedian Kurt Braunohler. So he pitched a show to Comedy Central that would center on a burning question: “What’s the dumbest way to make the world a better place?” The network bit, and Braunohler set off down the Mississippi River on a jet ski to raise money for Heifer International. His seven-day, thousand-mile odyssey from Chicago to New Orleans raised $34,000.
WORLD ARK: So, jet skiing down the Mississippi River. How did this idea come about?
KURT: I always thought it would be cool to jet ski across the country, but turns out that isn’t actually physically possible. But I was told that it might be possible to jet ski down the Mississippi. At the time, we were working on “Roustabout,” and the whole idea of the [TV] show is, “What’s the dumbest way to make the world a better place?” So it all came together.
How long was the trip? Join Kurt Braunohler in raising $50,000 for Heifer International and help families all over the world lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.
It was a 1,000-mile trip. We did 600 miles on the actual river, and the rest we had to drive. All told, it was a seven-day trip, and I spent 29 hours on the jet ski.
That’s a lot of hours. How did you entertain yourself?
Sometimes after hours of riding, I would have this zen moment where everything was perfect, and I was at one with the river. Other times, when it was choppy and windy, it really was work. It was really hard. I had a mic and a camera on me the whole time, so I did a lot of improvising for the show. Making things up for hours on end.
What was it like? Can you describe your experience?
It was insane. But it was really cool, too. The Mississippi is such a symbol of America, in a way. It was cool to experience what it’s really like to go down the Mississippi. No one rides down the river for pleasure; it’s very, very dangerous. It’s only used by commercial barges. But because of that and the fact that you can’t build too close to the river because of flooding, there are these long stretches that have remained in their natural state. It’s so beautiful. It was like going back and experiencing the river as Huck Finn might have experienced it.
Did you ever regret this method of fundraising?
Yeah, when we ran out of gas the first day and had to crash land at an abandoned grain silo. It was essentially a nightmare factory. At that point I thought we may have made a horrible mistake.
Were there moments that made you glad you did this crazy thing?
Getting out on the river that first time was a great moment. It’s beautiful.
Why did you choose to support Heifer?
We needed someone that people could trust, because you can’t trust me [laughs]. We were looking at several nonprofi ts, and Heifer’s just been doing it for so long. It also has the recognition; people know and understand it. We needed an organization that was well respected and trusted, so we went with Heifer.
Would you recommend jet skiing down the Mississippi or something like it to others?
You should totally do it. I encourage any type of absurd ridiculousness that can exist in the world. I thought it was great. It was really nice to wake up in the morning and know what we were doing was making the world a better place.
Learn more about Kurt's adventures on the mighty Mississippi River, then watch all nine episodes of Roustabout on Comedy Central.
Join Kurt Braunohler in raising $50,000 for Heifer International and help families all over the world lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.