Presented by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the New York Comedy Festival, the Stand Up for Heroes fundraiser has become a nine-year strong local tradition. Every year without fail, Jon Stewart, Bruce Springsteen and a handful of top comics will perform to raise money for wounded veterans. Tuesday’s event at the Theater at Madison Square Garden again featured Springsteen and Stewart as well as John Oliver, Ray Romano and Seth Meyers performing for a room full of soldiers and donors.
A tradition within the tradition is that it now appears that, without fail, Springsteen will take a break between songs — featuring acoustic versions of Born In The USA deep cuts “Darlington County,” “Working on the Highway” and a stirring rendition of “Dancing in the Dark” — to tell some filthy dad jokes. The audience got to hear about the acting career of a man formerly known as Penis Van Lesbian, the misadventures of a flying Voodoo Penis, and a bit about a flatulent prostitute that the Boss seems to particularly love. Ever the mensch, Springsteen also auctioned off a guitar and a guided tour of the backstage at an E Street Band show (though he mentioned the winner would have to bring their own drugs) and even threw in his mother’s lasagna; two people bid $370,000 each for the experience. The last auction was for a Harley Davidson — Romano and Meyers threw in meet and greets, and Oliver said he would “shoplift whatever you want.” Stewart, with no TV show, offered to let the winner hang out on his lawn. The package went for $100,000.
For their part, the professional comedians acquitted themselves well even without bawdy jokes, with Meyers thanking the crowd for giving him an excuse to skip the Republican presidential debates, Oliver talking about the very specific racism of Australia (“Who the f— has a problem with the Lebanese people?”), Romano talking about the difference between sitcom sex and “HBO sex” and a bearded Stewart taking several cracks at himself for looking old and rabbi-like in the two months since leaving television.
|John Oliver, Ray Romano and Jon Stewart perform at Stand Up for Heroes.
Andrew H. Walker/Variety/Rex Shutterstock
Before the show started, Romano told Variety that he’d been asked to perform before, but had always been in Los Angeles when the event was scheduled. But since he was in New York this fall filming the HBO series “Vinyl,” “this time it was the perfect opportunity to do it,” he said. “I’m amazed at what these guys do and how they put their life on the line for us, and anything I can do to show my appreciation, I’ll do.”
For the past five years Romano has focused on dramatic series like “Parenthood,” and “Men of a Certain Age,” but said that he never stopped doing standup. “Now that I’ve been working here, I’ve been able to hop into the clubs once a week, twice a week and just work out and generate some new material.”
In contrast, Oliver is an old hand at military events. His wife Kate Norley is an army combat medic, and he’s visited Walter Reed hospital several times and went to Afghanistan for a USO tour, which he told Variety was one of the most fun experiences of his career, and a gratifying way to connect with an underserved group.
“I think there is a weird separation in America between people who have a connection to the military and others that have no skin in the game, and that’s part of the problem,” he said. “It exacerbates the problem when people feel so dislocated from them, literally. This is a country still with people on the ground in a war zone, and it doesn’t act like it.”
With both “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver has reported on the plights of returning soldiers, particular their lack of access to mental healthcare and the shameful state of our veteran’s hospitals. After a national outcry, last year President Obama appointed former CEO of Procter & Gamble Robert A. McDonald as the secretary of Veterans Affairs; Oliver is cautiously hopeful.
“The VA has been a catastrophe. They say they’ve put a lot of money into it, so now I guess we will have to wait and see if things change,” he said. “This is the grace period, but if two years in nothing has changed, then it will be an absolute disgrace.”
Sergeant First Class Elana Duffy is used to coming to other’s aid, not the other way around. She helped set up the New York chapter of Team Red, White & Blue, an organization that helps veterans stay active in their community and which helped her recover from a traumatic brain injury. Talking on the red carpet before the event, she admitted that it felt odd to be the center of attention, but was thankful for the opportunity.
“It’s great to be able to talk about things and to help get (veteran’s stories) out to the public,” she said. “Specially with a traumatic brain injury, which most people can’t see, it can be very difficult sometimes to even talk about it.”