By Sophie Cannon, managing editor
From the strange spellings of their cities to their reckless driving and inability to be offended by an insult, it is undeniably true that Bostonians have a lot to laugh about when it comes to their city. In a night of pure comedic relief, a nine-comic lineup brought roaring laughter to a packed TD Garden for the 23rd annual Comics Come Home.
The audience never got a break from the side-splitting comedy, as comedians shuffled across the stage at a rapid fire pace. Younger acts like “Get Out” star Lil Rel Howery, Juston McKinney, Mo Amer and Jared Freid were among the lineup alongside classic comedians like proud Bostonians Lenny Clarke and Robert Kelly and the roastmaster Jeff Ross. Jimmy Fallon concluded the show in a much-anticipated performance, complete with his signature Lip Sync battle sketch from his television show, “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
The show not only serves as a homecoming for some of Boston’s own, but it is one of the largest fundraisers for the The Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care, a charity that provides comfort for both pediatric and adult cancer patients and their families.
Cam Neely, an NHL legend and current president of the Boston Bruins, opened the star-studded show with a video about his foundation and a few serious words before the comics took over. He started the foundation in memory of his parents after they died of cancer in 1995.
“Cancer not only affects the patient, but those who love and care about the patient,” he said. “We are with you in this fight and we will stay with you in this fight.”
With that, the host and emcee for the evening, Denis Leary, took the stage, not to do his stand-up set, but to sing. He sang two songs: one being a politically charged sing-along targeting both sides of the last presidential election, and the next being a Bostonian anthem with words like ‘cah’ and ‘grindah’ thrown in with a thick Boston accent.
Following Leary’s musical set, first-time guest of the show and Needham-native Jared Freid took over. In a show of seasoned professionals, Freid stood his own, never missing a beat and relating to the audience through his self-proclaimed frat boy, boy next door attitude.
“Personal stories and life inspire me,” he said. “We’re all trying to relate to one another. We all have the same fears, the same hung-over Sunday mornings and trying to deal with those the best we can, so I try to commiserate with the audience.”
In a tense time for comedy following the sexual assault allegations against figures like Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly, many of the jokes of the evening touched on the topic. Freid, recognizing the fine line between comedy and being offensive, keeps the goal of his comedy in mind: to make people genuinely laugh.
“Comedians’ goal is for you to laugh, not to make you mad, not to make you upset,” Freid said. “We want you to laugh as much as you want to laugh. Just know any comic you see on stage, all he wants is to do you the biggest favor of your day and make you laugh.”
From first-timer to veteran Comics Come Home comedian, Jimmy Fallon made another appearance at the charity performance this year, finishing out the show. Just weeks after his mother passed away, Fallon brought his father to the Garden for a well-needed laugh and to thank the foundation for all they have done for his family.
“Cam Neely actually saved my dad’s life,” Fallon said. “My dad got diagnosed with prostate cancer and we were in Boston at the time so we talked to Cam. I brought my dad with me tonight and he’s been with me backstage laughing. We need a laugh right now.”
Fallon’s set was light and fresh, and in true “Tonight Show” fashion, full of surprises. After his lip sync battle with Leary, the band stayed on stage as Fallon kept on singing. Seemingly out of nowhere, musician John Mayer came out on stage with his guitar, accompanying the singing and dancing Fallon in one of the most memorable closing acts.
While Fallon can now dance with Mayer and other famous celebrities on a daily (or should I say nightly) basis, his career started small. Giving advice to the up-and-coming generation of comedians, he told a truncated version of his story.
“Do any gig you can possibly do,” he said. “You’ll never get paid, so don’t do it for the money. Just do it for the love and keep getting better and better. I did stand-up outside of a grocery store in Los Angeles because I heard a story that Michelle Pfeiffer got discovered outside of a grocery store … I opened for bands and I got booed off the stage so many times. So get ready to ride and it ends well. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, but just keep working and it will end well.”