Just For Laughs

Imagine my surprise when, last week, I was contacted by a producer from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She told me that they were preparing an annual fundraising event called The Night of Too Many Stars, to raise money for Autism education. Launched several years ago by comedian Robert Smigel, better known to most people as the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and whose son has autism, the charity event has raised millions of dollars thanks to its airing on Comedy Central and the participation of Jon Stewart as host… not to mention a truly impressive array of stars. The producer explained to me that Smigel and Sarah Silverman had created a—

“bit” that involved me, and hoped I’d be willing to travel to New York that weekend to appear on the show.

Why not?

So it was that Saturday afternoon I found myself in the beautiful Beacon Theater on Broadway at 75th Street (my old neighborhood) watching a run-through of the program, learning the particulars of the routine from Sarah, and returning that evening for the taping. I decided to spend the night in the green room where, over the course of several hours, I got to meet and chat with a number of comedians I’ve admired, including Stephen Colbert, Lewis Black, Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock, Jim Gaffigan, Joel McHale, and John Oliver, as well as Tom Brokaw and actor Billy Crudup. My longtime favorite Robin Williams was also there, and as we were talking, he paused to help an elderly woman make her way to a comfortable seat. It turned out to be 92-year-old Lillian Ross, the legendary New Yorker writer whose book Picture, on the making of John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage, is a classic. I never dreamt I’d get to meet her—and certainly not in a roomful of comics!

The whole experience was interesting, unusual, and slightly surreal. (It was fascinating to observe Stewart run through a routine with a stand-in for one of the famous comedians in the afternoon, and then see the real comic screw up the material in front of an audience that night.) I won’t reveal the particulars of my “bit,” which you’ll see when the program airs on Comedy Central Thursday night, October 21st, but I was delighted that Smigel and others thought it was funny.

Legendary journalist Lillian Ross with Robin Williams backstage.

Just to complete the surreal aspect of my whirlwind trip in and out of the city, I learned that there were two movie press junkets taking place in the hotel where I was staying. As I was riding the elevator down to street level on Saturday, several women boarded at a lower floor and I tentatively said, “Naomi?” Sure enough, it was Naomi Watts, promoting her upcoming film Fair Game. I’d met her at a Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards dinner some years back and she remembered me; we had just enough time between floors for me to tell her how much I enjoyed her performance in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child. Then, as she left the elevator, I blurted out, “And the new Woody Allen film, too!”

That would have been enough of a bonus for an already adventurous trip. But as I boarded my plane home on Sunday I recognized that across the aisle from me was sitting director Werner Herzog.

I have my ups and downs, like anyone else, but I can never complain that my life is dull!

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July 2024