It was a murderer’s row of comic all-stars last night at the New York Comedy Festival’s Stand Up For Heroes event to raise money for the Bob Woodruff Foundation and America’s injured war veterans. Jon Stewart. Bill Cosby. Jim Gaffigan. Jerry Seinfeld. Hall of Famers all. But who knew the iconic rock star was a frustrated comic deep down? Bruce Springsteen, taking the stage last, not only performed three classic songs, but he set them up with some jokes. Some dirty jokes.
“I’m puzzled,” Springsteen said, after he ambled on stage with his guitar. “I think this is the first night of comedy for a soldiers’ audience where the entire night went by without anybody telling any dirty jokes. I don’t get it. I can’t let that happen… Older man’s having a hard time getting an erection…”
Springsteen proceeded to tell three dirty jokes that might not have made the cut for the comedy legends in the wings, but he told them with such relish that the crowd couldn’t help but laugh.
Laughter was a hard habit to break last night at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. Dozens of wounded veterans were in attendance and their personal stories of hope and perseverance were the centerpiece of the evening. But as Bob Woodruff’s wife, Lee, who helped the ABC newsman recover from an IED explosion in 2006, said early in the program, “Laughter simply heals and music heals. In those moments, when the bad thing happens, and you all have experienced that, you make a choice to get bitter or better.”
Stewart took that assignment and ran with it, with a comedy set that riffed on political issues that the Daily Show trades in every night. “When I think about your courage, your tenacity, your love of service, your love of country, I can’t help but think to myself, ‘Do any of you know how to build a f—ing health care website. Any of you? Can you help us? It’s like Zappos, but for insurance. Anybody?'”
Cosby, a Navy vet, regaled the audience with tales of his youth and playfully reprimanded a serviceman who tried to finish his joke, “I don’t care what war you were in… I was in the service before there were guns! We just dug holes in the ground and yelled at each other!.”
Roger Waters led a band and chorus made up of military veterans through powerful renditions of “Hallelujah,” “Imagine,” “Comfortably Numb,” and ex-Marine JW Cortes belted out a knock-out version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Springsteen capped the evening, after more than $500,000 in pledged donations had been raised from the crowd. The Boss then singlehandly convinced some fans to dig deeper into their wallets when he offered up his guitar for auction. The bidding was intense, quickly reaching $140,000. But just before a winner could claim his prize, Springsteen raised the stakes, adding a private guitar lesson to go with his guitar. More bidding ensued. Every time the auction seemed to slow, Springsteen would add a perk, like his mom’s homemade lasagna and a visit to his home-recording studio. NBC’s Brian Williams did his part, too, offering up his striped tie. The final tally: $250,000 for Springsteen’s guitar, a private lesson with the Boss himself, a trip to his home recording studio, his mother’s homemade lasagna… and Brian Williams’ tie.
To be fair, it was a really nice tie.