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Jim Gaffigan didn’t prepare differently for Wednesday night’s eighth annual Stand Up for Heroes concert, but performing at the benefit for wounded veterans, which he’s done before, feels different, he said, particularly when you think of what those in the audience and with the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which puts on the New York Comedy Festival kickoff event, have done.
“I think as a lazy coward, I think that what veterans have done and their sacrifice for their families…I think we take it for granted in our society, whether we support the war or whatever,” Gaffigan told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet ahead of the Madison Square Garden show. “So if me doing stand-up can be some kind of contribution, that’s great, but it’s kind of a strange thing because I’ve done this event before and I always have this strange feeling like ‘This is what the Woodruffs do?!…What have I done? Nothing’…It’s a heavy fun night…you can feel it…there’s a lot of reality existing here.”
Gaffigan said he didn’t really alter his material for Wednesday night’s show, feeling there was no need to edit it. “This is a room full of adults who want to laugh, so it’s not like there’s any form of censorship or editing,” he said. “These are people who have a great sense of humor.”
Indeed, the crowd roared at stand-up routines from Gaffigan, longtime Stand Up for Heroes performer Jon Stewart, John Oliver and Louis C.K. before chants of “Bruuuuce!” led to a five-song performance, with a few jokes thrown in, from The Boss (aka Bruce Springsteen).
Gaffigan’s set began with an array fat jokes, including him explaining that he often receives doughnuts on the road since he used to joke about the confections (“I know, surprise,” he interjected), “which makes me realize, I have to start doing jokes about diamonds.”
He then transitioned into jokes about Jesus.
“I know religion jokes make some people uncomfortable,” he said at one point. “Especially the ones who are going to hell.”
Gaffigan further focused his comedy on what kind of bread Jesus would multiply: the Bible doesn’t specify, he pointed out.
Pretzel bread? Garlic knots? Focaccia?
“That’s why he had all those followers,” Gaffigan joked.
“Maybe Jesus could multiply the bread but he had no control over what type of bread it was. It was just like, ‘Boom. Pumpernickel. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. Still free bread, everybody. Let me try it again. Boom. Melba toast. That’s never happened before. That’s the big guy playing a trick on moi.'”
Oliver, who said he feels as if he has “a little bit of skin in the game” since his wife served as a combat medic in Iraq, said Wednesday night’s show would be a breeze compared to the USO tour in Afghanistan he did last year.
“That took more preparing because then you’re on the back of a truck in 90-degree heat with a very heavily armed audience,” he told THR on the red carpet, recalling onstage the experience of doing a show with a man in the front row who was holding a gun with his finger on the trigger.
When Oliver finally asked the man if his finger had to be there, he firmly responded, “Nope.”
During his set, Oliver also talked at length about his recent trip to Australia, saying he had one “quibble” with the lovely country.
“It is the most comfortably racist place I have ever been in my whole life,” Oliver said, recalling that he often heard locals referring to a “huge Lebo problem.” What’s a Lebo? Lebanese people, he was told.
“Who the f— has a problem with Lebanese people? Say what you like, that is undeniably specific,” Oliver continued. “That’s like saying, ‘You know who I hate, Sri Lankans…Bangladeshis, the best…Sri Lankans, f— them, they know what they’ve done.’ Also, how many Lebanese people must there be in Australia to necessitate a perceived problem? Bear in mind there are only 400,000 Lebanese people in f—ing Lebanon.”
See more John Oliver Suits Up in New York
Stewart and Springsteen didn’t walk the carpet, but the Daily Show host, who’s performed at the event for years, took a moment at the top of the show to pay tribute to the troops.
“I can’t tell you what an honor it is to come out here every year and do this show. It’s the show that we all look forward to all year long,” Stewart said, addressing the troops, “You’re everything to the country and we can’t tell you how much we appreciate [what you do].”
He then went into a set that covered everything from politics to parenting.
Stewart pondered President Obama’s declining popularity, saying, “What happened to Obama? He was like the hope and change and then everybody was like, ‘Nah, fuck that.'”
“You’ve got to admit this is an enormous fall for a gentleman that you’ve got to admit has tremendous powers of persuasion and salesmanship,” Stewart said. “He got a man named Barack Hussein Obama elected president in America…He doesn’t have one name that makes sense to most Americans…It would be like Franklin Roosevelt losing an election to Adolf Shitler.”
Stewart, who’s often very private about his family, devoted several minutes to comedy about his kids, revealing that his son was a sumo wrester, with a fan that blew up his inflatable suit, for Halloween and that on date nights with his daughter when she was 3 years old, she would insist on doing her own makeup.
“I’d go outside with what looked like a miniature French hooker,” Stewart said.
He also talked about the differences between raising a boy and a girl.
“I’m so glad we had the boy first because girls are very articulate and enthusiastic and I think if we’d had the girl first, we would have thought that something was really terribly wrong,” Stewart said. “I remember when I’d come home when my kids were young. My daughter, she must have been two-and-a-half, three years old and I’d come in and she’d run to the door: ‘Daddy, how was your day? Was it good? Did you have a nice guest on the show? Were you funny? Wanna hear a joke? Knock knock. I’ll see you. I love you.'”
Stewart said he would then look over at his son, who would be “naked wearing a cowboy hat, trying to fit his fist into his mouth.”
But the comedians onstage weren’t the only funny men in the spotlight on Wednesday. At the beginning of the concert, Bob and Lee Woodruff took a moment for Robin Williams and all those who are struggling with mental illness. Williams performed at the first Stand Up for Heroes event at Town Hall, with Conan O’Brien and Louis Black, the benefit’s co-founder Caroline Hirsch recalled.
“We really miss him. He was just a great, great humanitarian. A great guy. A wonderful heart,” Hirsch said.
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