Despite the cold, rainy weather in New York on Saturday evening, a crowd of over 2,000 people gathered for Jon Stewart‘s annual “Night of Too Many Stars,” a fundraising benefit to raise money for the Next for Autism organization, which supports programs and services for people with autism. This year’s star-studded extravaganza, presented live on HBO, featured hilarious stand-up performances by Billy Crystal, John Oliver, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock and Ben Stiller.
Emceed by Stewart, last night’s comedy program drew big laughs from silly “Game of Thrones” references to Chris Rock trying to read audience member’s minds, but avoided any talk about social issues such as the sexual misconduct of Louis C.K., who was originally scheduled to perform at the show.
On Nov. 9, HBO announced C.K. been dropped from the lineup as a result of the scandal surrounding him. During the two-hour broadcast, C.K.’s friends and colleagues made no mention of him and stayed away from making any jokes about the recent wave of sexual harassment sweeping through Hollywood or Harvey Weinstein. Stewart and his roster of A-list stars remained focused on the topic of autism.
“Tonight is about unity. It’s about putting our petty differences aside and rallying around an important cause,” Stewart told the sold-out crowd gathered inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “Not as left and right. Not as blue and red. But as one people, just now finding out that Puerto Ricans are Americans.”
Over an hour into the show, comedian Michelle Wolf got political and was the only one to throw out some zingers aimed at Donald Trump during her stand-up routine.
“What a time to be alive. I think no matter whether you are a Republican or Democrat we’ve got to give Trump credit when he deserves it,” said Wolf. “He pulled out of the Paris Agreement and I think he should get credit for that cause he said he was going to pull out, and then he did. That’s a refreshing quality in a man… And people think romance is dead!”
Adam Sandler took to the stage and crooned a crowd-pleasing original song about the ups and downs of falling in love. “I know there’s a lot of happily married folks out here tonight, but you got to admit the most magical part of any relationship is when you are first falling in love,” Sandler spoke to the crowd as he began to sing with an accompanist on the keyboard. “For all the new lovers out there who are feeling it for the first time, this song is for you.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda joined in on the musical performances by rapping an entertaining medley in a taped message. He offered to auction off a personalized voicemail message and gave an example by creating one for Stewart using his “Hamilton” rapping skills, which drew huge applause and cheers from the crowd.
Other stars such as Sarah Silverman, Kumail Nanjiani, Steve Carell, Andy Samberg and Paul Rudd participated in taped sketches while Olivia Munn, Ellie Kemper, John Mulaney, Howie Mandel and Will Forte performed live comedy bits to encourage guests to donate money. J.J. Abrams successfully persuaded an attendee to bid $10,000 by offering to whisper in his ear the plot of Star Wars: Episode IX.
Stephen Colbert was to be interviewed by Carly Fleischmann, an autistic woman who is considered to be the first-ever nonverbal celebrity on-air talk show host, but the live interview did not happen as planned. Due to Fleischmann’s O.C.D., she got distracted by the confetti floating on stage and could not conduct the skit. Colbert handled the situation calmly by cuing the house band — The Roots — to play some music while producers tried to rectify the situation. He later returned next to Fleischmann in the audience and reassured her that not performing the planned interview was okay.
“I don’t want you to feel bad about anything that happened tonight because remember, no matter what happened,” Colbert said. “At least you didn’t bring out Sean Spicer!”
To close the show, Stewart summed up the lovely evening by saying, “Tonight was funny, touching and chaotic — like life for people that have obstacles, and everyone else.” He added, “It’s been a struggle for us to convey how important this cause is for 15 years. How human and complex people with autism are.”
Despite a few hiccups, the evening was highly successful and raised over $2 million.