President Obama was in Century City on Wednesday night to accept a serious award from the USC Shoah Foundation — but his warmup act, comedian Conan O’Brien, still wasn’t over what Angelenos were calling Wednesday’s #Obamajam on major routes around town.
“As a resident of Los Angeles, I'm furious about what you do to traffic when you visit this city,” O’Brien said to laughter at the foundation's 20th anniversary gala. “What the hell? I know you left Washington six hours ago, but I left Burbank seven hours ago.”
“There are two things that make traffic shut down in this town — a visit from the president and a light drizzle,” O’Brien continued. “Now, I mean this with the greatest respect, Sir, but do you have to physically come here? We love you. This town loves you. You’ve got our vote. You’re good.
“Audience, what do you say to — next time we give President Obama a Los Angeles award, we mail it to him? And then we fly down the 405,” the comedian said.
As the president laughed, O’Brien added that “Skype works” and that if he insisted on continuing to come to Los Angeles, he owed everyone a ride home in his helicopter.
O’Brien delivered his punch lines between speeches at the Shoah Foundation gathering, telling the crowd that the organization’s founder, Steven Spielberg, had insisted that he provide a little levity. Bruce Springsteen also performed two songs before Obama accepted the organization’s Ambassador for Humanity award.
In accepting the award, Obama paid tribute to Holocaust survivors who have told their stories through the USC Shoah Foundation, which has an archive that now includes more than 107,000 hours of testimony and interviews. He spoke at length about the importance of storytelling in overcoming indifference and preventing future atrocities.
“The testimonies of survivors like those with us tonight also remind us that the purpose of memory is not simply to preserve the past, it is to protect the future,” Obama said. “We only need to look at today’s headlines — the devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, the sectarian conflict, the tribal conflicts, to see that we have not yet extinguished man’s darkest impulses.”
He called on members of the audience, about 1,300 people, to confront the “rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world” and pointed to examples in Ukraine and the recent shooting at a Jewish Center in suburban Kansas City.
“It would be tempting to dismiss these as isolated incidents, but if the memories of the Shoah survivors teach us anything it is that silence is evil’s great co-conspirator,” Obama said. “And it’s up to us, each of us, every one of us, to forcefully condemn any denial of the Holocaust. It’s up to us to combat not only anti-Semitism, but racism and bigotry and intolerance in all their forms, here and around the world.”