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Benefit prescribes best medicine

Power of Comedy brings laughter to a good cause

Activist-survivor Noreen Fraser knows the effects of cancer first-hand, and she isn’t kidding when she says, “Laughter heals.”

“With that in mind,” Fraser explains, “I came up with the idea of using comedy to raise awareness for early detection and convincing women to get tested.”

Fraser recruited cut-ups such as Jack Black and Russell Brand for her foundation’s “Men for Women Now” initiative. The goal: Convince men to insist that the women they love get checked. “You have to catch the cancer early,” she says.

In support of Fraser’s cause, more than a dozen stars of the comedy world come together Saturday night at the first-ever Variety Power of Comedy event. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the topic will be coming up a lot onstage.

“There is no way to be funny about cancer,” says performer Sarah Silverman, the first comic to sign on for the event. “‘Patch Adams’ covered it already.”

The sold-out event, hosted at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles, is the latest in the Variety “Power of” series, following similar fundraising events built around showbiz youth and women.

“There are pockets of our industry that can really help us tap into the power of philanthropy,” explains Variety publisher Brian Gott. “Comedy is a very, very big business, but it goes a lot farther than making people laugh.”

The driving concept behind Saturday’s standup show is using celebs to help get the word out about a good cause, with proceeds benefiting the Noreen Fraser Foundation. “We’ve given them at least a three-year commitment so that we can build this together,” Gott says.

The all-star lineup includes Variety Power of Comedy honoree Russell Brand, Garry Shandling, Bob Saget, Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson, as well as Variety “10 Comics to Watch” veterans Patton Oswalt, Aziz Ansari, Donald Glover, Brandon T. Jackson, Nick Kroll and B.J. Novak (Brand was also featured in 2008).

The event is hosted by actor Justin Long (also featured in this year’s Comedy Impact List). “I’m proud just to be included in the world of comedy,” Long says.

Best known for his acting work in such films as “Tropic Thunder” and “Lottery Ticket,” Jackson has a second agenda: Introduce his standup skills to a larger audience. “A lot of people don’t know me as a standup comedian,” he explains. Though proving himself is a perk, Jackson insists philanthropy is the main reason he agreed to participate. “I think if you are going to be a high-profile guy (it’s important to) use your, as we say, ‘powers for good,’?” he says.

For Silverman, who claims to do “every benefit I’m asked,” getting involved was a no-brainer: “If I can help raise money for a good cause just by doing my dumb comedy, I’d be crazy not to, right?” As for the show itself, Silverman will treat it little differently from any other gig. “I might mention the charity or be a little extra obnoxiously self-righteous onstage,” she says.

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