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On Saturday night, a number of actors and comedians gathered at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City to raise money for autism programs as part of Night of Too Many Stars. In support of nonprofit NEXT for Autism, the event featured stand-up performances, short films and sketches.
The televised event was hosted by Jon Stewart and included appearances by J.J. Abrams, Stephen Colbert, Robert De Niro, Will Forte, Abbi Jacobson, Ellie Kemper, Jordan Klepper, Howie Mandel, Hasan Minhaj, John Mulaney, Olivia Munn, Michael J. Fox, Michelle Wolf, John Oliver, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. The Roots served as the house band.
Noticeably absent was Louis C.K., who was dropped from the lineup after multiple women accused the comedian of sexual misconduct.
The special itself aired live on HBO, but beforehand, attendees had the chance to bid on five celebrity-influenced prizes. With the help of auctioneer Guy Bennett, audience members paid $8,000 for a visit to the set of Sesame Street, $25,000 for lunch with Larry David and $80,000 for dinner with The New Yorker editor David Remnick cooked by chef Mario Batali. After an intense bidding war, two audience members got the opportunity to have a night on the town with Stewart for the price of $40,000 each. Ten audience members also agreed to pay $5,000 to have their mind read by Chris Rock during the show, which turned out to be more of a roasting segment.
During the introduction, Stewart mentioned that this year’s Night of Too Many Stars would add a dramatic touch that has been missing in previous years. America’s Got Talent judge Howie Mandel was given the responsibility of giving one performer the golden buzzer, therefore signaling his or her sketch or joke to be the best of the night.
“Of course, tonight’s about much more than celebrities competing for Howie Mandel’s approval. It’s about coming together for an evening of levity, generosity and, I assume since we’re on HBO, plenty of cowboy robot dongs,” joked Stewart. The punchline was followed by an excited Mandel pushing the golden buzzer as confetti fell from the ceiling.
“Tonight is about unity,” Stewart said as Mandel attempted to clear the debris off the stage. “It’s about putting our petty differences aside and rallying around an important cause, not as left and right, not as blue and red. But as one people, just now finding out that Puerto Ricans are Americans.”
Colbert then emerged from the audience to argue that Stewart’s joke was “divisive.” He then told the host that his politically incorrect comments about dragons earlier in his monologue were not being received well on Twitter. One of the tweets came from inside the auditorium, with Fox, who was sitting in the audience, posting, “I’m bored.”
Oliver then rolled onstage with his Last Week Tonight desk to condemn Stewart’s performance as host. “You’re doing a terrible job. You’re very bad,” said Oliver. While attempting to roast Colbert, both Oliver and Stewart broke for a laughing break. When Oliver accused Colbert of stealing all of his show’s audience members from Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Times Square, Colbert responded, “We also lure some of our audience from the M&M store.”
Samantha Bee finished the segment by appearing onscreen from her Full Frontal set. “Sorry I’m late, folks, I was working on a good excuse for not being there in person,” she began. “What a shocker! They got another white male who thinks all dragons have dicks to host an autism fundraiser,” Bee said. “God forbid anyone does anything to break up the charity boys’ club. This whole thing makes me want to start a new charity called ‘Godwill.’ As in, ‘God, will you please make him stop?!’”
Billy Crystal received Mandel’s second golden buzzer of the night after he joked that nothing rhymes with “autism.” While Stewart and Crystal reminisced about the actor’s accomplishments, De Niro interrupted and told the men to wrap it up. “I gotta go,” he explained. Upset that De Niro could not stay the whole time, Crystal concocted the idea to tape the legendary actor making a number of facial reactions that the film crew could cut to later in the show. De Niro then did his best laugh, inspired look and an expression showing that he’s “been sitting on one of [his] balls and [he’s] trying not to act like [he] did.”
Sandler took the stage to perform a song about falling in love for the first time. “For all the new lovers out there who are feeling it for the first time, this song is for you,” he said. While the song began with sweet lyrics like “She seems like an angel sent down from above,” the song quickly took a turn for the worse as Sandler sang, “She ends things with a breakup kiss. You call your friends bawling, crying, and they all say, ‘Who the fuck is this?’”
Jacobson later took the stage without her Broad City partner in crime, Ilana Glazer, to explain where the proceeds from the benefit will go. But things took a comedic turn when Glazer Facetimed her from New Jersey. After saying that she was fully aware that Jacobson was preoccupied, Glazer asked about a French techno band she couldn’t remember the name of. As the two then discussed a meal they had in the past, Stewart interrupted that Jacobson had to get off the phone. “Well, Ilana’s got to go as well. I’m very busy doing stuff,” said Glazer as she showed her aunt and two fake Daft Punk members preparing Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen.
Rock pretended to read the minds of 10 audience members and Al Roker, who was also in the crowd. “Al Roker’s thinking, ‘Why does that guy get to say “motherfucker” on TV? Why can’t I ever say “motherfucker” on the Today show?’” Rock said. “’There’s a motherfuckin‘ cold front coming from the Midwest.’”
Stiller made an appearance as Oren Tiki, the president of Tiki Torch International. ”We’re here to show that tiki torches are really for so much more than white nationalist marches. They’re for picnics, luaus, The Bachelor rose ceremonies,” he said. He also made clear that tiki torches are in no way connected with racism, recalling that his great grandfather thought when he first saw the Statue of Liberty with her torch when arriving at Ellis Island, “Christ, these people really love torches.”
And J.J. Abrams auctioned off the chance to have him share the secret plotline to the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX film. During the bidding war, Rob Corddry walked onstage to sweeten the deal by offering to share the ending for Hot Tub Time Machine 3, a film that will likely never be made. After an audience member who identified himself as Carlos Danger won the auction for $10,000, Gilbert Gottfried took the stage to spoil Sharknado 5. “It came out this past August, but no one saw it so it still counts as a spoiler,” he joked.
A number of celebrities that couldn’t physically attend the event recorded comedic messages for the audience. Sarah Silverman memorably shot an apology for not being able to attend the event due to scheduling conflicts, though shaky ADR revealed that the clip was previously used to help raise money for Hurricane Maria. Steve Carell, Andy Samberg and Jon Lovitz also joined forces in a clip to explain that their absence was caused by a contest for a Nissan Altima.
Other celebrities who were featured in prerecorded clips included an incognito Bob Newhart, Paul Rudd on the set of Ant-Man and the Wasp, Kumail Nanjiani bragging about his newfound success and James Marsden, who gave audience members a satirical inside look of how he prepares for his role as Teddy Flood on Westworld.
The night concluded with an emotional performance of Andra Day’s song “Rise Up” by autistic musician Jodi DiPiazza, the Action Play Chorus and Cynthia Erivo.
Watch the full event below.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek