Sarah Silverman, John Mulaney Talk Environmental Protection and Comedic Exhaustion of Trump

NRDC's 'Night of Comedy' benefit -Getty-H 2019
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The NRDC "Night of Comedy" benefit, hosted by Seth Meyers, also featured sets from Tiffany Haddish, John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj and Mike Birbiglia and raised more than $1.7 million.

Comedians Tiffany Haddish, John Mulaney, Sarah Silverman, John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj and Mike Birbiglia shared the stage in support of environmental protection as part of the Natural Resources Defense Council's third annual "Night of Comedy" benefit, which took place Tuesday at the New York Historical Society.

Held in partnership with Discovery and hosted by Seth Meyers, the benefit raised more than $1.7 million for the NRDC. While environmental protection and politics underscored the evening's purpose and messages, NRDC president Rhea Suh described the event as "a chance to take an evening off and have a few laughs" in light of the last several years, which she said have "been a little rough for environmental causes."

Silverman told The Hollywood Reporter that comedy has not only been a way to help others cope with the country's current political and environmental climate but a way to get herself through it, too.

"I mean, laughing is more and more gallows humor at this point, but I think it's how I — we — survive," Silverman said.

For the NRDC — which has spent 50 years addressing and litigating issues related to clean air, clean water, clean energy, climate change and public health — the state of the environment is no laughing matter, but the comedy benefit is something Suh says fits right in with the organization's other efforts to protect the Earth.

"I think [this night] really gets to the core of what I think our democracy is about," Suh said, while speaking to THR. "It's about individual people standing up and making their voices heard and collectively creating actions to ensure that not only we're holding polluters and corporations and political people to account, but that we're also ensuring that we're putting in the right people, particularly political congress, in the office."

For Haddish, her investment in that collective action started when she became a citizen of the world and is as much about learning how to help as doing the work.

"I got involved with caring about the environment when I was born into it," Haddish told THR about what spurred her interest in environmental issues and supporting the NRDC. "I've already been trying to help clean up, recycle — be a part of being good to the Earth, and it's because the Earth — it's where I live, we all live."

While speaking to THR before the event, Mulaney revealed that his interest in environmental causes was sparked during early adulthood on trips to Alaska and Chile. There he saw and learned about the impact of rising global temperatures on glaciers and ice fields.

"I went kayaking in Alaska when I was 18 in Glacier Bay, and watching glaciers calving and hearing the statistics on them was pretty shocking," the former Saturday Night Live writer said. "You're seeing an actual glacier calving in front of you with chunks the size of houses falling on you and that is perfectly natural, but the acceleration that it was going at was staggering."

Once the event began, Meyers kicked things off by referencing his first stint as the "Night of Comedy" benefit host, where he and the other performers attempted to deliver jokes just a day after the 2016 presidential election. The Trump administration and its stance on environmental conservation was the backdrop of the evening, but most of the night's comedy avoided directly joking about the president.

Silverman, who is known for supporting several charitable causes and tackled climate change on her Hulu series, I Love You, America, said talking directly about Trump and his administration's stance on environmental issues, among others, had "exhausted" her.

"I have fatigue," Silverman said. "He rope-a-doped us and wore us out. It worked. I'm exhausted. There's no single thing to say about him that is enough for the damage the giant baby caused us. We're living in a world where our most powerful people are living unexamined lives, and we suffer the consequences of their choices. And when I say we, it's not me, it's other people."

That fatigue has also hit comedian John Mulaney, who said that since Trump's election, what he had learned about political comedy from SNL — specifically, "that you can see the humanity in everyone" — is a lesson that is now useless because he no longer thinks it's true.

Mulaney's set during the NRDC benefit was mostly Trump-less, but his latest special Kid Gorgeous at Radio City has arguably one of his most popular political jokes. The bit, which is all about how Trump changed the White House and the way Americans pay attention to our political leaders, never actually uses the president's name. With most of the night's comedy avoiding talk about the president, the comedian explained his own decision not to say Trump's name is his special joke.

"It was intentional, but I don't know how philosophical it was," Mulaney told THR. "People don't want to hear the name on both sides. It's like O.J. in 1994. You just can't hear the name anymore. So [the choice] was a bit of dislike, it was a bit of a semantics thing. And it made the joke to me funnier, and more absurd but still grounded."

Meyers and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver were the most pointed in their political criticism of the current White House administration, as others addressed a broader range of topics, including Jussie Smollett, pregnancy, reparations, diets, Beto O'Rouke, advertising and the Mueller report.

Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj opened the show with his joke about people mispronouncing his name while still managing to get names like Ansel Elgort or Timothee Chalamet correct. Elgort was in attendance at the event, and after Minhaj acknowledged him, the actor rushed the stage for a brief laugh and hug.

Haddish's set was the most environmentally-focused, with the actress and comedian referencing eco-friendly cars, solar power and how "being broke" helped keep her environmentally friendly. The comedian also took questions from the audience, at which time she shared her hope for a Girls Trip sequel, and revealed that she's written a script for it.

"Me and the girls we've punched it up and made it good," Haddish told the audience during her set. "But they don't wanna [make it]. We understood how much money could be made, but they don't wanna pay. So I doubt it."

At the night's halfway point, Suh and NRDC chief counsel Mitch Bernard shared the announcement of Discovery's new global partnership with BBC Studios, which will see them launch a nature-focused streaming platform, before awarding Discovery Inc.'s president and CEO David Zaslav with the Steward of the Planet award. They also delivered a presentation highlighting the organization's mission, impact and how they're responding to the Trump administration's environmental protection rollbacks through litigation. 

"Donald Trump has clearly made the environment one of his top targets, and he's attacked pretty much every environmental issue there is," Suh told THR about the event, its star power and what she hopes it will accomplish. "But we have sued the Trump administration nearly 100 times, and 90 percent of those times, we have won victoriously. So, this is, I think, an incredible moment for us to not only come together but for us to send a message to the political community, saying, 'Wait a second, nobody voted for dirty hands, nobody voted for polluted water. These aren't our values as Americans, and you, Mr. President, have responsibilities to uphold our country's values.'"