After a year lost to the pandemic, the New York Comedy Festival returned to live performances with its fifteenth annual star-studded Stand Up for Heroes benefit on Monday nights. And one of the biggest laughs came from a meandering joke about a “voodoo penis” delivered by a 72-year-old amateur. Well, the guy’s not a professional comic, but Bruce Springsteen does know how to entertain an audience, and he has made a tradition at Stand Up of mixing dirty jokes with acoustic versions of his classics.
Springsteen is always the highlight but the show featured an array of performers, from singers Brandi Carlile and Grace Gaustad to comedians Jim Gaffigan, Nikki Glaser, Nate Bargatze, Donnell Rawlings, and Jon Stewart, who is as committed to the event as Springsteen. The evening raises millions for the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which was started by Woodruff and his wife Lee after Woodruff, an ABC journalist, was severely wounded by an IED in Iraq in 2006.
The Foundation acts as a clearinghouse, raising funds and distributing money to groups working with wounded warriors and veterans, to aid them not just with their physical wounds, but with everything from mental health and suicide prevention to fertility treatments to employment help.
During the show, the Woodruffs introduced five young Marines sitting in the front row, who ten weeks earlier had been part of the Ghost Company that was evacuating as many people as possible from the airport at Kabul at the Abbey Gate when a suicide bomber killed 13 Americans, including nine members of their company. They also brought to the stage Brad Lang, who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan but who now participates in adaptive sports leagues thanks to funding provided by the foundation, as well as a military couple who had benefited from the fertility treatments (although their 14-month-old daughter stole the show)
“I just feel so lucky so anything I can do to help out I will,” Bargatze said before the show. He later earned the biggest laughs of the night, starting with a bit about the difficulties of digging holes, be it for his mother’s koi pond or for a shallow grave after a murder.
And Glaser, whose new $400 shoes broke on the red carpet, said that as someone who has battled depression and often talks publicly about mental health issues, “This show is such a good fit. I’m glad the mental health needs of veterans are getting more attention.”
The show opened with Stewart, who made jokes about Green Bay Packer Aaron Rodgers’ vaccine controversy, quipping, “How does a quarterback not understand the concept of protection?”
After all the comics plus Carlile and Jupiter, along with an in-show paddle raise for donations that yielded more than half a million dollars in a matter of minutes, the show closed, as it always does with Springsteen. He’s still passionate about his songs, diving into “I’ll Work For Your Love,” “Letter to You,” “Hungry Heart” and “Dancing in the Dark” but nothing seemed to give him—and the crowd– more pleasure than when he first walked up to the microphone, a guitar slung across his body, a harmonica around his neck, paused briefly, and then launched into a joke about what got sold at the sex shop.