Article 2007-11-07 New York City, NY

O’Brien Performs Live, but Charity Benefits

NBC ran a rerun of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” on Wednesday night during the ongoing writers’ strike, but it was still possible for a select few to see the host do an original monologue.

“A comedian following ‘Taps,’ that’s what I’m dealing with here,” Mr. O’Brien said in disbelief, and by way of introduction, as he followed the Quantico Marine Corps band onstage at a benefit performance at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan. “And to top it off, I’m your host for the evening and my writers are on strike.”

Watching from the front rows were the guests of honor, several dozen soldiers at various stages of recovery from serious wounds in Iraq. They were flanked by several thousand others (some of them the most prominent media executives and personalities in town) who had paid as much as $100,000 (for a block of 20 premium seats). The beneficiary: the Bob Woodruff Family Fund, begun by the ABC journalist, who nearly died after being struck in the head by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

“The monologue tonight is entirely crafted from Dixie riddle cups, fortune cookies and old ‘Sanford and Son’ dialogue,” Mr. O’Brien said, as Brian Williams and Stephen Colbert looked on, as well James Gandolfini and Joe Torre. “I’m not kidding — I got nothing.”

“I do have some good news about the writers’ strike,” he quickly added. “If it continues, there will not be a third ‘Deuce Bigalow’ movie.”

He then explained: “My mother wrote that. But she’s in the W.G.A.” — the Writers Guild of America, which initiated the labor action — “so she’s in a lot of trouble.”

Hollywood writers went on strike just after midnight Monday in their battle with producers, most contentiously over how much they should be paid when their programs and movies are shown on the Internet and devices like cellphones and iPods.

The walkout immediately affected the entertainment talk shows, sending Mr. O’Brien’s program and others into repeats.

At Town Hall, Mr. O’Brien did not spare Mr. Woodruff, who was in a coma for more than a month after his brain was pocked by shrapnel and other debris. “Here’s the irritating thing about Bob,” the host said. “Bob was wounded by an I.E.D. at close range, and he’s still the best-looking guy in this room.”

After noting that those who had witnessed Mr. Woodruff’s recovery first-hand knew that his memory still failed him occasionally, Mr. O’Brien suggested, “Those of you who didn’t witness it first-hand, this is a great opportunity to borrow money from him.”

“To be fair,” Mr. O’Brien continued, “Bob is not the first journalist that has been injured during a war. True story: Larry King was wounded while covering the War of 1812.”

With an audience dotted with veterans of an increasingly unpopular war, Mr. O’Brien — like the performers who would follow him — was careful not to be too political. But he couldn’t resist doing a bit that imagined an NBC television movie (rushed into development just before the strike, of course) about power in Washington. Aided by photos of politicians and their celebrity doppelgangers projected onto a screen behind him, Mr. O’Brien announced that the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, would be played by Martin Short; Senator John McCain of Arizona by Tim Conway; Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico by Erik Estrada, and Senator Charles Schumer by Grandpa Munster.

With that, Mr. O’Brien yielded the stage to a lineup that would be difficult to assemble on his show. There was Bruce Springsteen, who played three songs on acoustic guitar and harmonica, including “Devil’s Arcade,” a new song about a gravely wounded soldier and his wife. And, this being part of the New York Comedy Festival, there were three stand-up comedians: Robin Williams, who did his best, loud-mouth drill sergeant (when he wasn’t acting out what a certain senator’s men’s room tryst might have looked like); Lewis Black, who engaged in an extended riff on Santa Claus running for President; and Brian Regan, who spoofed “Antiques Roadshow” and the audience that loves it.

The event raised more than $2.5 million, according to organizers, not counting the more than $80,000 bid successfully by Mr. Williams’s wife for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle used and then donated by Mr. Springsteen.

By Jacques Steinberg via The New York Times.
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