The Ballroom at The Jane Hotel, with its ornate decorations and densely-packed furniture, would be ill-equipped to host any formal dance. Perhaps the space retains its name because of the massive, gracefully decaying disco ball hanging from the ceiling. If you think the decor sounds unusual, you’re not alone; the comedians who performed there as part of the third annual Hilarity for Charity fundraiser couldn’t stop talking about it either.
“There’s a sort of New York old money vibe in here,” Hannibal Buress mused during his routine. “That’s cool. Congratulations on that legacy.”
Demetri Martin’s observations were slightly more disconcerting. “I always say that the worse a room is in a fire, the better it is for comedy. So this is definitely one of the best rooms I’ve ever done. It feels like the Titanic.”
Actually, the Jane Hotel hosted a memorial service for the sunken ship in 1912, but thankfully the mood on Tuesday night was less somber. Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller, the hosts of the event, were using the West Village hotel (and the comics) to raise money for the National Alzheimer’s Association. Ms. Miller’s mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 55. But just because the situation was grim, Ms. Miller explained, didn’t mean the fundraiser had to be.
“Sometimes something’s so sad you just have no choice but to laugh at it,” she said.
As Mr. Buress sidled up to the open bar, he explained to us how to use humor in the face of misfortune—even the grave, mortal kind. “I’m never really trying to mock an issue,” he said. “So the goal with me is just being funny, but not shitting on something just to be funny. Not saying anything just for the sake of a joke.”
All the performers avoided the topic of Alzheimer’s in their sets, which was probably for the best. Natasha Leggero, whose mother died of Alzheimer’s, found a different target, telling the crowd that she was “intimidated to be here, until she saw four people wearing Google Glass.” (We spotted only one pair, on event organizer Trey Ditto. He claimed not to have heard the joke.)
Ms. Leggero’s sharpest barb, however, was delivered offstage. When Ms. Leggero, who participated in the Comedy Central Roast of James Franco last year, was asked who her dream roastee was, she pointed squarely at the Transom: “I see you’re trying to grow a beard,” she said. “Your face looks like an Asian man’s leg hair.”
Luckily, we have thick skin.
Aziz Ansari, who flew in from Los Angeles that morning, rounded off the group of featured performers. He wooed the New York crowd with a bit about occupied taxi cabs, but off-stage refused to speculate about replacements for a soon-to-be-retired city icon, David Letterman. “I want him to stay on the show forever!” he said. “I watched him as a kid. Isn’t it kind of annoying that everyone’s talking about who’s going to replace him?”
Mr. Ansari’s good natured frustration was representative of a larger theme of the night: If a disease, or the loss of a hero, is too much to bear, you can take out your frustration on the room. Or a reporter.