It would be easy after nine years for an annual event to get stale or stall out, but Stand Up for Heroes, the partnership between the New York Comedy Festival and the Bob Woodruff Foundation taking place Nov. 10, stays fresh by constantly introducing new blood and expanding beyond the confines of the stage.
It helps that the mission remains essential even as it has evolved. Bob and Lee Woodruff started the foundation after Bob, an ABC News correspondent, was gravely injured in Iraq in 2006; it acts as a clearinghouse for organizations supporting wounded warriors: Woodruff says there were 46,000 charities at the peak and while “a lot have faded away” thousands remain for the foundation to vet and evaluate with a matrix that measures impact per dollars. The mission shifted from dealing mostly with physical wounds to long-term PTSD and getting veterans jobs.
“We are trying to get them back to normal, to get them their old lives back,” Woodruff says.
The presentation at Stand Up for Heroes has changed in tone a little too, Woodruff says, from an urgent need to educate the audience about the cause to highlighting what the Foundation continues to accomplish. Caroline Hirsch, founder of Carolines and the New York Comedy Festival, says audiences remain steadfast in their support.
“You would think it gets trickier as time went on, but people are right there for us,” she says. “We reached our ticket sales goal six weeks out. We have already raised $5 million.”
Since many audience members return each time in support, Hirsch says, “We need to shake it up every year.”
Jon Stewart and Bruce Springsteen remain stalwarts but Hirsch and her team rotate returning superstars like Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Jim Gaffigan and musician Roger Waters; John Oliver is back for his second year in 2015. And they also bring in “fresh” faces, this year it’ll be trumpeter Chris Botti, Seth Meyers and a nervous newcomer named Ray Romano.
|“You would think it gets trickier as time went on, but people are right there for us.”|
“I’m not competing with the other guys, but even after 30 years that insecurity never leaves you,” says Romano, who even says after a short set at the Comedy Cellar recently he was dissatisfied with his performance and the audience’s reaction. He “felt so flustered I had to stay and do a set in the next show to get it right.”
Romano had been invited to Heroes before, but couldn’t make it. Now in New York filming HBO’s “Vinyl,” he was thrilled to participate.
“It’s a great night and a great cause and I’m glad to have the chance.”
It’s not just the comedians who donate their time — everyone backstage from security to makeup work gratis. (Woodruff adds that Gaffigan also gave proceeds from his DVD to the cause since he won’t be there this year.)
“It’s a huge event but we run it like a mom-and-pop operation,” Hirsch says.
Last year, two new volunteers, restaurateurs Peter and Penny Glazier, joined in, starting Dine Out for Heroes. On the night of the event 130 restaurants participated, both donating money and generating pledges from customers.
“The restaurant community rose to the occasion and we exceeded expectations,” says Penny Glazier.
The dining angle also captured the attention of American Express, which signed on as a sponsor, helping Dine Out for Heroes to expanding to five nights during the festival week.
“We’re also getting more savvy with social media,” says Glazier, with a food photo contest to win gift certificates that she expects to further drive interest.
Stand Up for Heroes is already looking ahead to its 10th anniversary next year. Plans may include Dine Out in multiple cities (“I have chefs in Chicago and San Francisco saying, ‘Just tell me when,’ ” Glazier says) and a second Stand Up event in Los Angeles.
Whatever 2016 holds, Hirsch promises, “It will be bigger and better.”
Ninth Annual Stand Up for Heroes
The Theater at Madison Square Garden