Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart Stand Up for Heroes: Concert Review

Getty Images
The great music and comedy on display were dwarfed only by the moving presence of scores of war veterans and their families in this standout benefit show

“I went into the wrong profession,” declared Bruce Springsteen while delivering a series of dirty jokes at Wednesday's seventh annual Stand Up for Heroes show. His desire to be amusing was no doubt sparked by the fact that among the acts preceding him were such comedy superstars as Jon Stewart, Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld and Jim Gaffigan. The rocker’s mildly funny contributions proved that they’re tough acts to follow.

Despite that impressive lineup, which also included Roger Waters (see photo below), the true stars of the annual show presented by the NY Comedy Festival and the Bob Woodruff Foundation -- benefiting injured service members, veterans and their families -- were the multitudes of military figures both onstage and off. Their ranks extended all the way up to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey.

Presented for the first time at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, the show combined humor, music and emotion to powerful effect. For all the star power on display, perhaps the most memorable element was the deeply touching speech by a young Afghan war veteran who had lost both legs and an arm to an IED and his wife.

PHOTOS: Emmy Icons: Exclusive Portraits of Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld and Bryan Cranston

Military figures and their caregivers were given a prominent place in the front of the orchestra section, with the performers paying lavish tribute to them throughout the evening. But the atmosphere was not always reverent, as when Cosby, interrupted by an audience member during his routine, comically shot back, “Let me tell my story! I don’t care what war you were in!”

The comedians generally played to their strengths during their brief sets. Stewart, admitting, “It’s rare to perform for people who are so much better than you.” He joked about the catastrophic rollout of Obamacare and the differences between the current president and his predecessor (it might be time for him to retire the Dick Cheney hunting jokes, however), as well as being the parent of two young children.

“It’s so rare you get a chance to ruin someone from scratch,” he pointed out.

Cosby delivered a typically hilarious, if familiar, routine about his poverty-stricken childhood and his antipathy towards his siblings (“When I read the bible growing up, I sided with Cain”). He also garnered huge laughs with a story about how he once killed his younger brother’s invisible friend.

PHOTOS: ABC's 'TGIF' Comedy Block: Where Are They Now?

Gaffigan delivered his trademark fat jokes, commenting that “I haven’t been hungry in, like, 12 years” and scoring with amusing bits about junk food and lavish weddings.

Seinfeld was in typically fine form dealing with such issues as marriage (“Being married is like being on a game show and you’re always in the lightning round”) and today’s overly solicitous parents.

“You know what my bedtime story was? Darkness!” he comically fumed.

Waters and Springsteen, both familiar faces in these annual events, delivered standout, if brief, musical sets. The former was an unassuming presence, playing with the “MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band” composed of veterans, several of them missing limbs, as well as such ringers as guitarist G.E. Smith. Taking pains to introduce every single person onstage, he graciously handed the lead vocals to other singers for powerful covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” taking the reins himself for John Lennon’s “Imagine” and his own “Comfortably Numb.”

“I had something to do with this one myself,” he said modestly while introducing the latter song.

STORY: 'Springsteen and I': Top Five Moments

Springsteen, introduced by Stewart as “the patron saint of my state,” interrupted his comedy routines with a trio of numbers beginning with a solo acoustic version of “Dancing in the Dark.” He was joined by wife Patti Scialfa for a duet on “If I Should Fall Behind” before manning a pump organ for a haunting cover of the Suicide song “Dream Baby Dream.”

The show ended with a raucous auction of Springsteen’s electric guitar, with numerous audience members bidding from their seats. As the price kept going ever higher, Springsteen kept sweetening the pot -- offering first to autograph it, then a personal guitar lesson, and finally the chance to attend a recording session in his home studio (he offered similar enticements at the Musicares' Person of the Year gala in February). It finally netted a cool $250,000, and the money couldn’t be going to a worthier cause.

Twitter: @THR_Earshot