“I am a big proponent of laughter, and I really believe that laughter can heal,” says Noreen Fraser, founder of the Noreen Fraser Foundation and its signature charity event, Variety’s Power of Comedy show, whose third annual gala will be held Saturday night.
Honoring “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, who lost his mother to cancer, and hosted by Joel McHale, the laff-oriented evening features standup from such comedy stars as Bill Maher and Patton Oswalt — a formula inspired by Fraser’s philosophy about the relationship between hilarity and healing.
But Fraser’s foundation is about far more than just bringing the yuks. Established in 2006 as a fundraising organization targeting breast cancer, the foundation shifted its focus to combat and raise awareness of all forms of women’s cancer after Fraser learned of the efficacy of fighting these different manifestations together. To reach its goal, the org engages in targeted funding, which it uses to enable various cancer-combating projects and also to raise awareness about the importance of early detection, enlisting men in the cause through its Men for Women Now campaign.
“If you can put it in the hands of the men to ask the women in their lives that they love to get an appointment for their mammograms, that’s a very positive way to reach people, and it’s been very successful,” Fraser says.
It all comes together at the Power of Comedy event, where stars graciously perform for a more-than-worthy cause — raising awareness about the importance of cancer detection — while reminding MacFarlane of how hilarious (and employable) they all are.
“When he asked me if I would be in ‘Ted,’ I put myself in a catapult and threw myself at his house with enthusiasm,” McHale says. “He was way too nice to be as powerful and talented as he is. And in conclusion, cancer sucks ass.”
Like McHale, Maher joined the lineup at the behest of his close friend MacFarlane, but says, “I am really doing it for the charity,” hoping a well-meaning cause doesn’t mean he has to mellow his act.
If the first two years of the benefit are any indication, unexpected and irreverent moments are likely to abound. In the inaugural event, the audience was treated to a surprise guest when Helen Mirren showed up unannounced to present honoree (and “Arthur” co-star) Russell Brand with his award. “She is beyond cool,” says Fraser, referring to the venerable Oscar winner. “So that was very, very exciting.” The next year, the comedic musical act, the Dan Band, wowed the crowd with an unexpected number about mammograms and Pap smears — living proof that Fraser’s message is best served with a smile.