“Cancer or no cancer, we all need more laughter in our lives.”
So said Noreen Fraser opening Variety’s Power of Comedy event Thursday presented by TBS and benefiting the Noreen Fraser Foundation.
Fraser is a clear fan of Ansari, who has performed at Power of Comedy before. “He’s hilarious, he’s my favorite, and he deserves this award tonight,” she said. Fraser also explained her recent efforts made to secure funding for cancer research, as well as the development of new treatments, one of which, is a new medication that she is currently taking to combat her own illness.
“I was asked at midnight to tell some funny stories about Aziz on set, and I said no,” said Retta. “And my publicist said ‘please,’ and I asked ‘Are they going to pay me?’ And she said ‘no.’ And I went ‘ugh.’”
“And then she said ‘It’s for Variety and I said ‘OK!’”
Retta joked that when the “Parks and Rec” cast first began their run, she had thought Ansari was narcoleptic. “I would legit stand behind him in scenes because I was afraid I would have to catch him – this is not true,” she corrected.
Though, she would stand behind him because he was always on her mark, she said.
Emcee Kurt Braunohler kicked the night off, introducing himself with jokes – “I realize I look like a camp counselor at a camp that only teaches feelings.”
“This event is called the Power of Comedy,” he said. “Comedy has the power to make us laugh and sometimes even the power to make us not laugh – actually, that’s about it,” he said, getting a laugh from the audience.
Braunohler was joined by the likes of Jerrod Carmichael, Tig Notaro, Nick Kroll, Rory Scovel, Moshe Kasher and Joe Mande, who entertained with stand up bits covering an array of topics from marriage, to L.A. restaurants, to sex, to personal stories – and of course Ansari, himself.
“Aziz taught me a lot about comedy,” Kroll said. “Aziz is the best,” he went on, explaining that the two used to do open mic nights together, and did the Roast of James Franco earlier this year, on TBS, “Very funny. TBS. Very funny,” he stressed to a laughing audience.
“Aziz is so Indian,” he joked, “He’s so Indian that it’s an interesting aspect to his process of being an American and it informs his comedy.”
Taking the stage, Scovel rocked out with an air guitar to his intro music – Spoon’s “Do You” – while Kroll took a beat out of his standup to joke around with the DJ, who played right along with him.
“Give it up for DJ Ethnically Ambiguous up there everybody,” he pointed, “Can she talk, let’s see?”
“I have a mic,” she answered.
The comedians also took the opportunity to get in comments about the cyber attack on Sony, with Carmichael joking “If Scott Rudin wrote an email about you, are you successful?”
On a lighter note, Kroll added, “I’m worried they’ll find out I still listen to Tony Robbins cassettes on my yellow Walkman.”
“We’re so happy to be here to honor our friend Aziz Ansari,” said Pratt.
“I know what you’re thinking,” added Scott, “‘Ugh, another award for a foodie, hip hop obsessed Indian man from South Carolina, but he sold out not one, but two Madison Square Garden shows. That’s 10,000 people, twice,” he stressed.
“That’s like a million people,” said Pratt.
“No,” Scott corrected, “no, it’s not.”
Pratt went on to tell a potentially made-up story about Ansari teaching him how to get out of taking photos in airports, while Scott added that he knew he and Ansari were becoming friends “when sometime in 2011, when during our 38th conversation he looked up from his phone and acknowledged that I was standing there.”
“It’s so crazy to hear you talk about all the stuff you’ve done,” Ansari said to Fraser when he made it to the podium, “It makes no sense for me to be getting this award. ‘I helped develop this new drug,'” he imitated her, “‘but Aziz has 5 million twitter followers!’ I just doesn’t seem quite fair.”
“I’ve had a very lucky career in a lot of different ways,” Ansari said, accepting the honor. The comedian made a point to thank the performers for the night, as well as the “Parks and Rec” cast, who have their final day of filming on Friday, before bidding the audience goodnight.