Stand Up for Heroes Celebrates a Decade of Raising Funds for Veterans

Caroline Hirsch had been running the New York Comedy Festival for three years when she decided she needed to do more.

In May 2007, she and partner Andrew Fox sat down for a meal with Lee Woodruff, who had just started the Bob Woodruff Foundation with her husband, badly wounded the previous year while reporting from Iraq.

Hirsch proposed “a little event” to spotlight the foundation, which provides support for organizations helping veterans returning from the front. The next thing she knew, Hirsch and her team were organizing a November fundraiser from scratch in the 1,400-seat Town Hall. “I guess it was pretty ballsy,” Hirsch recalls.

This year marks the 10th edition of Stand Up for Heroes, which has raised approximately $40 million for the Woodruff Foundation, Hirsch says. At this year’s Nov. 1 event, they will bring back some of the veterans who have benefited to highlight the org’s work.

Hirsch credits the fundraiser’s success to committed performers, a coterie of comedy superstars — this year features Jon Stewart, Louis C.K., Jerry Seinfeld, and Jim Gaffigan, all of whom have repeatedly supported the event — and a singer with a natural flair for joke-telling named Bruce Springsteen. “That was amazing,” Hirsch says. “He clearly works on his jokes and he’s good at it.”

Bob Woodruff says it’s “like a dream to be up on the same stage as the most famous comedians” but adds it’s unlikely he’ll follow the Boss’ lead and tell jokes. He relishes his own job on stage: “I love reading the names and ranks of all the veterans we fly in for the event.”

It’s the first trip to New York for many, and Woodruff loves seeing them get pampered with donated services for makeup, hair, and massage.

Back in 2007, Conan O’Brien was the first comedian to sign on. He shared the stage that year with Lewis Black, Brian Regan, and Robin Williams, whose wife shelled out $85,000 when Springsteen drove his motorcycle on stage for auction. Springsteen has performed every year and auctioned everything from his guitars to backstage passes to lasagna dinner at his house. “He gets so into it, egging people on,” Hirsch says.

She remembers that first year trying to round up customers: “We were calling friends to come and help get the word out but then we got momentum and just kept going and going.”

The event moved to the 2,800-seat Beacon Theater and then the 5,500-seat Theater at Madison Square Garden. This year, Woodruff says, more than 85% of tickets were sold in the first three days.

Stand Up has even added a sit-down component the past three years, with Dine Out for Heroes, which was started by restaurateurs Peter and Penny Glazier. This year’s event takes place on Veterans Day; Penny Glazier expects close to 100 top New York restaurants to participate, with each donating a dollar per diner that day while also promoting the cause to customers who can add their own donations.

Among the highlights over the years have been a 2011 opening act named Bill Clinton. “He told a joke and then gave a speech that was moving,” Hirsch says. Roger Waters was joined by wounded veterans from the MusiCorps rehabilitation program in 2012. And when Springsteen auctioned off another guitar last year, Fox sent out the comedians to drum up interest, leading to a riff-off among Stewart, Ray Romano, Seth Meyers, and John Oliver as the auctioneer tried to maintain control.

But Stand Up for Heroes never loses sight of its vital mission. “You hear about the backlog at the V.A. and you know these issues have not gone away,” Hirsch says.

“There’s not the same sense of urgency as in 2007,” Woodruff says, when much of the money was going to medical care because there were a hundred casualties a week. “We have longer-term goals now.”

Now the mission includes connecting veterans with other veterans who understand their issues, and helping vets find satisfying jobs. “They don’t want handouts, they want their dignity back,” Woodruff says.

He’s pleased to celebrate the 10th Stand Up, but he’s also looking ahead to the 11th, 15th, and 20th. “I’m never giving it up, because this is never going away.”

More Biz

  • Fourward

    Management Company Fourward Taps Christopher Burbidge as Head of Talent Division

    Will Ward’s management company Fourward has promoted long-time colleague Christopher Burbidge to head the company’s rapidly growing talent division, while also promoting Brooke Blann to manager in the company’s music division. Both Blann and Burbidge are based in the company’s Los Angeles office and will continue to report directly to Ward. Burbidge works closely on [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Kaplan Stahler Agency Signs Modified Code of Conduct in Win for WGA

    Kaplan Stahler has become the latest agency to sign the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) modified code of conduct in a win for the Guild. In a message sent out to WGA members today, the negotiating committee wrote that the agreement with Kaplan Stahler “bans packaging fees and agency-affiliated production companies and, through information-sharing, makes [...]

  • London's CODA Agency Formally Becomes a

    Paradigm Agency Formally Absorbs London's CODA Into the Fold

    After five years of working together, London’s CODA Agency has formally become a part of Paradigm and will continue under its U.S. partner’s banner. The London office of what is now a fully integrated Paradigm will continue to be led by Alex Hardee, Tom Schroeder, James Whitting and Dave Hallybone. In a statement otherwise laden [...]

  • WGA Agents Dispute Placeholder

    Agencies Seek to Hold Key Court Hearing Before WGA Elections

    The four major agencies asked a court on Monday to expedite a key hearing in the Writers Guild of America lawsuit, as the agencies seek to have portions of the case thrown out before the WGA’s internal elections in September. The WGA and the unions are still waging a legal and public relations battle over [...]

  • Sonja Plack Cocaine Possession

    'The Chi' Actress Sonja Sohn Arrested on Cocaine Possession Charge

    Sonja Sohn, the actress who appears on “The Chi,” was arrested over the weekend in North Carolina on a charge of cocaine possession. Sohn, best known for portraying Det. Kima Greggs on “The Wire,” was booked and released from the Dare County Detention Center in Manteo, N.C., according to a statement from the Dare County [...]

  • Roc Nation Label Names Shari Bryant

    Roc Nation Label Names Shari Bryant and Omar Grant Co-Presidents

    Roc Nation has named Shari Bryant and Omar Grant co-presidents of the Roc Nation Label, the company announced today. The two will lead the Roc Nation team to develop strategies for signed artists while continuing to build the talent roster, according to the announcement. “There is no better way to celebrate my 20th anniversary in the [...]

  • Bert Salke and Jennifer Salke

    Feds Looked Into Amazon Studios Chief Jennifer Salke in College Admissions Scandal

    Federal investigators looked into Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke and her husband, Fox 21 Television Studios president Bert Salke, as they conducted a sprawling probe of cheating in elite college admissions, a source close to the case told Variety. It does not appear, however, that prosecutors will charge the Salkes in the case. The Salkes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content