Even with a near-capacity crowd in attendance, TD Garden felt like an intimate comedy club Saturday night (November 18), as Comics Come Home roared into town for its 23rd year, retaining its title as the largest charity comedy show in the country and having raised nearly $11 million for the Cam Neely Foundation since 1994.
In a pre-show interview with Vanyaland, late-night superstar Jimmy Fallon called the annual charity laugh fest “funny, loud, and spirited,” while the founding father of the fundraiser, Denis Leary, summed it up as simply “trying to cure cancer.”
In whatever way it can be described, in no way could it be described as disappointing. No topic was held sacred — Trump, Hillary, Louis CK, you name it — and it was still a light-hearted show, reminiscent of a frat reunion.
With Cam Neely taking the stage to deliver a heartfelt welcome to begin the night, the crowd roared as Sea Bass himself thanked Leary for continuing the tradition of the show. And staying true to the blueprint of the show, Leary took the stage with a brand new parody, “Rich Orange Douche,” sung to the tune of the Mott the Hoople/David Bowie classic anthem “All The Young Dudes,” poking fun at the political absurdity that has unfolded since last year’s show, and subsequent verbal cat fight between Wanda Sykes and local guy Nick DiPaolo.
Thankfully, neither Sykes or DiPaolo were there to soak the night in awkward tension, allowing for Leary — and just about every other comic on the dais — to partake in the ribbing of both sides of the political spectrum, as well as target the wave of sexual assault coming out of Hollywood, including those involving Comics Come Home alum, Louis CK.
Local guys Juston McKinney and Jared Freid, of New Hampshire and Needham origin, respectively, brought a sense of familiarity to the stage with their sets, as they both riffed largely on different aspects life in New England, as well as their home lives, with Freid, who took the Comics Come Home stage for the first time this weekend, filling his set with dating stories, thoughts on body waxing, and his own batch of text acronyms, which he is convinced are just as practical as “LOL.”
Lil’ Rel Howery, of Get Out fame, took the stage and wasted no time laying down a subtle burn on the amount of white people that attended the show. “Wow, there’s a lot of white people here! Is this ‘Get Out 2’?” he quipped, before laying on a thick roast of bad barbers and Spirit Airlines, calling them the “dirty-ass Greyhound bus in the sky,” which began a well-sculpted set of outrageous travel stories that garnered roaring laughs. Although Howery ended his set cold, the cheers followed him off the stage, and continued throughout the introduction of Mo Amer.
Amer, a Kuhwait native and Houston transplant, screamed “get the door, Abdul!” as he took the stage, leaving the crowd with a bit of nervous laughter, as terrorism jokes don’t always play out the best. But Amer had the crowd in a gut busting laughter in no time, as he painted a picture of growing up and being from the Middle East, how easy it was to blend into the latino community in Texas, and reminiscing of his flight upgrade that had him seated next to Eric Trump (“Tell your Dad that he can build all the walls he wants. My family flew in, so it’s whatever to us…”).
As Amer relinquished the stage to the next comic, Leary took the mic to acknowledge how he had inadvertently separated the young, and local comics from the seasoned veterans — which led to bringing up Boston University alum, the Roastmaster General himself, Jeff Ross, who wasted no time getting into what he does best.
After having a shot to roast the Boston police earlier this year, Ross revisited the still-tender wound he left with a handful of jokes right off the bat about the boys in blue, all met by what could be best described as a resounding “Woooooooooow!” followed by uproarious laughter, as Ross kept it rolling with a number of jokes about topics like immigration and the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Ross ended his set with a “speed roast” of a handful of audience members gathered up by Mo Amer, and the Bruins jersey-clad comedy central vet took aim with some of the most cringeworthy comments you could think of, while thanking each of his willing contestants for being good sports, with whom he took a bow before bidding adieu for the evening.
Lenny Clarke and Robert Kelly brought an additional, healthy dose of that sharp Boston wit, which was only emphasized by Clarke’s bright blue suit — continuing his own Comics Come Home tradition of wearing outlandishly vivid clothes — all the while poking fun at the bike lanes in Cambridge and the outrageous benefits of being friends with Red Sox owner John Henry.
While Kelly filled his set with a lot of the jokes seen on his Netflix special, Live at the Village Underground, the Boston Comedy Festival’s Comedian of the Year peppered in some new material, reflecting on the oddity of his home life, such as the experiences of trying to toilet-train his son.
Undoubtedly, the most raucous round of applause came when Fallon returned to the Comics Come Home stage, being met with a standing ovation as he dished out a rarely-seen profane version of himself, riffing on his confusion with many things Bostonians find to be second nature, like how to pronounce “Worcester” and “Billerica”. With bits on the ridiculousness of the Big Dig and the placement of the Aquarium (“You have it between the ocean and a Legal Seafood. It’s just a giant ‘fuck you’ to the fish, I feel…”), Boston’s adopted son cut his set short, bringing a taste of The Tonight Show with him, as he challenged Leary to a lip-sync battle.
As if the night could get any more exciting — following a Fallon-led rendition of House Of Pain’s “Jump Around”, and Leary employing the pipes of Freddie Mercury to win the battle with a Patriots Super Bowl montage set to “We Are The Champions” — current Dead & Co. frontman (And Berklee alum) John Mayer took the stage, to lend a hand in a show-ending, arena-wide sing along to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” to which Fallon served as hype-man to cap the evening.
Even with Jim Gaffigan and Craig Ferguson in absentia, Comics Come Home 23 proved to be one of the more exciting editions of the Denis Leary brainchild. And if 2017 is any indication of what is to come in the future, Comics Come Home 24 is already a can’t-miss comedy event.
Photos by Jason Greenough for Vanyaland; follow him @dadbodvanilla.