This weekend, I made my way to Boston for the 21st annual Comics Come Home fundraising event for the Cam Neely Cancer Foundation. My friend Laura and I went to the event last year and had so much fun that we decided to make it an annual tradition – a tradition that was immediately threatened when I found myself on crutches. I’d already skipped a few events that I had tickets to due to the difficulty of making the logistics of an arena work, but I was determined that I wasn’t going to miss out on going to Comic Come Home, even though I was really nervous about it. The lure of spending a night with Denis Leary, Jimmy Fallon, Ray Romano, Louis CK and others was just too strong. Since I’d already missed out on planned trips to Vegas and Florida, a film festival, and concerts because of this stupid injury, I was ready to roll the dice and face my fears. And honestly, it would have been poetic if it was the city of Boston was what finally took me down, given my complex relationship with their sports teams.
Thankfully, I was able to enjoy Comics Come Home without incident. In fact, as much as I enjoyed the show last year, I think that this year’s installment was better overall, in part because the quality of the comedians was more consistent and built to the de facto headliner, Louis CK. Last year probably hit more highs – I STILL laugh whenever I think about Robert Kelly’s set – but it also had some comics that didn’t quite connect with the audience. This year, there was consistent laughter for every person on that stage so it made for a better slate of acts.
As is always the case, Denis Leary kicked off the show and served as the emcee. He performed a parody of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotions” about the comics we’d see that night as well as a very Boston-centric song that I’m pretty sure that he performed last year. Fair warning – it uses some language that people might not find appropriate:
As expected, that got a pretty enthusiastic response – especially when he mentioned Tom Brady. That guy is a freaking god in Boston. Leary then did some jokes and was his usual entertaining self, ranting about forgetting some of what he was going to talk about ranting about whatever annoys him. I hoped that maybe some of the cast from his FX series Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll would eventually join him on stage, but that wasn’t in the cards. Perhaps next year.
Leary was then ready to turn the stage over the comedians that had donated their time to be a part of the event. First up was Chris Distefano, who stars in the IFC show Benders (which Leary produces). Distefano was probably not as well known to the crowd, but I was familiar with his stand-up. He was good and had some solid material about having a child with a Puerto Rican woman and his interaction with a waiter in Norway (“Reindeers are real??”). He did among the shorter sets of the evening – the comics are on stage longer as the night progresses – but he made the most of his time and made the audience laugh quite a bit. I’m sure that people who didn’t know who he was before the show will seek him out now.
Next up was Steven Wright, who I was looking forward to seeing. He has a very distinctive delivery and he doesn’t so much tell jokes but throw off funny one-liners and non sequiturs. His jokes construction is all over the place in regards to topics; there is no clear connection between one statement and the next, other than the fact that they are oddly funny. I wasn’t really sure how this dry, deadpan and chaotic method of delivery would play in person, but it was quite delightful. He’s kind of an odd duck, but all of his observations were funny and sometimes you had to chuckle just at the randomness of it all.
The only woman on the bill this year was Christine Hurley; I had no idea who she was, so I was a little surprised to hear the ovation that the crowd gave when her name was mentioned, as I like to think I’m pretty up on who’s who in the world of stand-up. Turns out that she’s a local favorite and plays a lot of shows in the Boston area, which is why everyone else seemed to know who she was. She’s only recently started her comedy career and she definitely has a lot of material to mine from her own life, as she is the mother of five and married to her high school sweetheart who is now a firefighter. She was a pleasant surprise and did a really great job – but don’t let the mom of five thing fool you. She’s not afraid to get a little raunchy and she used the C-word a lot on her act, much to the delight of Leary. In fact, he had all 13,000 people at the Garden yell out that word in unison after Hurley’s set:
Leary’s old Rescue Me running buddy Lenny Clark was up next and relayed some stories about some of his past health issues and trips to the hospital. It was honestly a little convoluted – he started telling two stories at once, so it was a little hard to follow – but it was funny enough that you laughed despite that. He’s always the most interesting dresser of the group and he didn’t disappoint this time either. Clark’s a lovable guy so he’s just fun to see on stage; I thought his set was a little stronger last year, but he’s such an amusing storyteller that even when he goes a little haywire, you just enjoy going along with him for the ride.
Ray Romano followed Clark and he was probably the comedian that I was most interested in seeing, mostly because I’d never seen him do stand-up before. I mean, I obviously knew that he was a comic before he landed Everybody Loves Raymond but I wasn’t really sure what he’s be like. I enjoyed Everybody Loves Raymond in syndication, though more as background noise than a show that I was really all that invested in. I’ve enjoyed Romano much more when he’s doing more dramatic work – he was fantastic on TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, which was funny in a way very different than a network sitcom and I was glad to see him turn up on NBC’s Parenthood. I was hoping that his stand-up would be a little smarter than the stuff you see on a sitcom, but I was prepared to be disappointed. When I saw Kevin James do stand-up, I walked away thinking that he was pretty vanilla and I wouldn’t have been shocked to have the same thoughts after seeing Ray. Romano was actually great; he did a lot of material about his family as well as getting older. Neither of these topics are particularly innovative or edgy, but he had jokes that offered a new perspective and that were, more importantly, very funny. Plus I got to hear Romano curse and talk about masturbation, which is not something you expect from the guy who played Ray Barone. I remembered a lot more of Romano’s jokes than some of the other comics, which is proof of a job well done.
Jimmy Fallon took the stage next and got perhaps the biggest ovation from the crowd. Everybody loves Jimmy, apparently – sorry Ray. This marked the 7th time that Fallon and I have been in the same room and yet it is always fun to see him in person. Fallon got things going by joking around about his recent string of accidents; he mentioned that when he was in Boston two weeks ago that he stayed at a lovely hotel – Mass General. He then did very similar shtick as he did last year – he handed out superlatives to members of the Boston Bruins and then Leary joined him to hand out some superlatives to the Rangers. Since I don’t know hockey players as well, this was slightly less amusing than last year when they did baseball players. Leary also gave Fallon some superlatives of his own: “Most likely to leave a hockey game with more injuries than the players” and “Most likely to trip and say ‘help I’m Fallon and I can’t get up!’
Jimmy and Denis then did a slightly rewritten rendition of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”
Jimmy appearance this year was shorter than it was last year and I think overall I enjoyed him more at Comics Come Home 20. Perhaps because they stuck so closely to the formula that they used last year, it didn’t feel as exciting. But seeing Jimmy is always a good thing and the audience ate him up.
Steve Sweeney was kind of the sorbet of the evening, allowing the audience to cleanse their palate before Louis CK took the stage. I wasn’t familiar with Sweeney and one has to assume that his placement later on the bill was due to being a Boston favorite and because he was Leary’s old roommate when they were starting out. He was fine, though probably the weakest link in the lineup. He did a lot of ethnic humor which I didn’t think was all that insightful or hilarious, but he may have gotten a few chuckles out of me. I may have also been less attentive than I could have been, as I was already getting psyched up to see Louis CK again. He’s always the best.
This was my third time seeing Louis CK perform and for the third time he absolutely KILLED it. Watching Louis CK on stage is watching someone who is at the absolute top of their game and has mastered their craft. It’s always something of a revelation and I have no idea how he continuously pumps out such great material. It’s like you almost take for granted how good he is. Louis CK covered all sorts of topics, though perhaps the most memorable was when he talked about seeing his dad’s penis for the first time in the bathroom of Fenway Park. That legitimately brought the house down. I could have stayed and listened to him forever; if you get the chance to see Louis CK live, I cannot recommend it highly enough. He alone was worth the ticket price to Comics Come Home. He’s just brilliant.
As tradition dictates, Denis Leary returned to the stage one last time to perform his song “Asshole,” which people seem to still love after all these years. I’ll admit that I was only half paying attention to his performance of it this year as my thoughts had already moved on to the challenge of getting up the stairs from our seats and out into the crowded corridor of the Garden. We made it work, however, and I managed to get myself to the safety of the car without falling on my face and with only minimal assistance. People were generally pretty cool about getting out of my way while I was on crutches and the staff of the TD Garden were absolutely wonderful, so what could have been a very stressful evening wound up being not so bad after all.
We’re already looking forward to Comics Come Home 22, which hopefully I will not be injured for. It is a wonderful cause to support and the fact that we get a night’s worth of great comedy on top of it is really just gravy. Leary may refer to himself as an asshole, but his charity work for firefighters and the Cam Neely Foundation indicates otherwise.