Stand Up for Heroes brought the funny, the serious, and some music on Monday night to the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The evening, which serves as the kick off to Carolines on Broadway’s New York Comedy Festival, included stand-up from Seth Meyers, Jimmy Carr, Jim Gaffigan, and Jon Stewart, as well as a performances by Bruce Springsteen and Eric Church.
Now in its 14th year, the event benefits the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a veterans support organization started by journalist Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee, after he was wounded in Iraq.
This year’s tally? $500,000.
Gaffigan said everyone who comes to perform or support the event “is here for the right reason — there are not two sides here and that’s very important, particularly in this day and age.”
“It’s a humbling and amazing experience,” added Carr shortly after, insisting he was not nervous, despite being the first British import to perform there. “At least not until you asked about it,” he said, his voice rising in mock fear. (Carr spent several days prior at the Comedy Cellar testing material for an American audience.)
The biggest surprise for Carr came when a veteran told him, “I could never do what you do.”
“He won a Purple Heart in the Helmand Province,” Carr said. “I said to him, ‘Dude, are you serious? You did that, then you could definitely do 10 minutes.’”
The veterans were all named in the annual roll call by Woodruff and basked in the audience’s applause. The theme of the night was an emphasis on family, with Lee Woodruff discussing how returning vets don’t like discussing difficult issues like intimacy and fertility, but the foundation is helping cover costs for service-related fertility issues. “We have had three babies and there are more on the way,” she said.
Later in the evening, Justin and Kim Lee, both of whom served in Iraq in the Air Force, came on stage and showed an uncompromising, but hopeful video that discussed PTSD and their own suicidal thoughts and the importance of family. They were helped by other programs and have now created their own nonprofit, Project Unbreakable, to provide suicide prevention resources and counseling.
Stewart provided the most political humor of the night. He opened by saying he was glad to see all the service people there because, “I thought you’d be at the border.”
After riffing about the fear-mongering surrounding the migrant caravan, how easy it is to obtain an AR-15 (“it’s harder to adopt a cat”), and some direct Trump jokes, he did a lengthy, often serious bit about how “political correctness” actually really means not using language that is wounding to others. While his story revolved around him learning how hurtful he had been by using “f—-t” as a teen and “retarded” as a comedian, it was also an incisive commentary on a president and his followers who do not seem to understand the power of hateful language.
The biggest laugh came when Stewart said, “I’m from Central Jersey” and after sections of the crowd cheered, he said, “I disagree.”
The night ended with country star Church performing three songs, “Desperate Man,” “Hippie Radio,” and “Standing Their Ground,” followed by the eagerly anticipated Springsteen performance. (The only thing missing this year was the annual auctioning off of Springsteen’s guitar, harmonica, and other belongings; it was replaced with an announcement that fans could go to Omaze.com and buy chances to win a ticket to see Springsteen’s Broadway show and get to go backstage.)
Springsteen, who drew the loudest cheers of the night, opened with “This Hard Land,” then dueted with his wife, Patti Scialfa, on “If I Should Fall Behind,” and Church on “Working on the Highway” before closing with “Dancing in the Dark,” which had the audience singing along. In between he told two dirty jokes, the second one revolving around a “voodoo penis.” It may not have been as well-written, or as well-told, as some of the jokes from earlier in the evening, but the singer’s obvious delight had the crowd roaring.
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