Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Roger Waters, Jim Gaffigan and General Martin Dempsey gathered Nov. 6 to raise money for American combat veterans who had been injured in duty as part of Stand Up for Heroes, a fundraiser presented by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the New York Comedy Festival. All the presenters donated their time and energy to help out wounded veterans, but one man took it upon himself to make sure the troops got something extra special.
Walking onstage to the Theater at Madison Square Garden to his customary sea of “Bruuuuuuuuuuce” chants, headliner Bruce Springsteen commented on the incongruity of a group of comedians performing for an audience of soldiers (the first few rows of the event were reserved for servicemen) without “anybody telling any dirty jokes.” Springsteen went on to rectify the situation by rolling out a whopper that simply can’t be repeated here; suffice to say it involved old men, erectile difficulties and Gypsy potions. He then went on to alternate between performances both musical (a stripped down version of “Dancing in the Dark,” a duet with his wife Patti Scialfa on “If I Should Fall Behind”) and scatological (it’s best we don’t get into the one about the flatulent prostitute) before capping his mini set off with a passionate cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” which has become a staple of Sprinsteen’s live set in recent years.
Stand Up For Heroes was started by ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff and his wife Lee after Woodruff was injured by an IED bomb imbedded with soldiers in Iraq. He was in a coma for 36 days, and when he finally awoke he decided to dedicate himself to making sure servicemen and women get the financial support they need. Since 2007 the Bob Woodruff Foundation has raised more than $16 million, which is distributed by grants to various nonprofits that provide health and rehabilitation services to the troops and their families.
Before the performers began, Lee took a moment to thank both the soldiers and the family members who look after them when they return, and brought out United States Captain Larkin O’Hern and his wife Rachel to talk about their experiences; Larkin lost both of his legs and one of his hands while deployed in Afghanistan, he credited his wife keeping his spirits high and forcing him to go to rehabilitation. It was a somber moment, and a difficult one to follow. Jon Stewart took the stage afterwards, immediately noting that “it’s tough to perform for a bunch of people who are so much better than you,” before launching into a series of jokes about President Obama’s troubled healthcare website.
The rest of the comedians stuck to their favorite pet topics, with Gaffigan complaining that his wife doesn’t think that donuts should count as trail mix and Seinfeld noting that now that he’s had children everyone else’s kids “never look quite right. Is that boy’s head supposed to look like that?” Cosby mostly stuck to material about growing up in Philadelphia with a combative brother, but after an audience member tried to shout out one of his punchlines, he made it clear that even honored veterans need to respect their elders. “Let me tell my story,” he said. “I don’t care what war you were in, you will behave when I’m talking. I was in the service way before you guys were born. I was there when there was no guns. We just dug a hole and yelled at each other.”
Roger Waters was joined by more than 20 wounded active service members, including a drummer playing with a stick in place of a prosthetic arm, for a set that included covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that featured lead vocals from Marine Timothy Donley, John Lennon’s “Imagine” (“I wasn’t entirely sure they would want to do this,” Waters noted), Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” (sang by Marine JW Cortes) and Waters’ own “Comfortably Numb.”
The evening ended with General Dempsey and surprise guest Brian Williams auctioning off the guitar Springsteen used during the evening, which has become a Stand Up For Heroes tradition. (Springsteen has played the event every year since it started.) When an initial offer of tens of thousands of dollars seemed too low, Springsteen offered to throw in a one hour guitar lesson and eventually also added a visit to his home studio during a recording session and the recipe for mother’s lasagna. (It was hard to tell how serious he was about this last part.) For his part, Williams threw in his necktie. The guitar eventually sold for $250,000 dollars to one lucky fan. For that much, Springsteen should probably throw in a few dirty jokes when the fan drops by the studio.