What started as a joking tweet to Neil Gaiman about the Cheesecake Factory raised $100,000 for refugees

Author Neil Gaiman.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

It started with a joking tweet from a Los Angeles comedian to author Neil Gaiman about the Cheesecake Factory, and it ended with more than $100,000 being raised — thanks to a last-minute $10,000 gift made in the name of two “Mystery Science Theater 3000” characters — for the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Last month, writer and comic Sara Benincasa issued a Twitter challenge to Gaiman, the bestselling author of “American Gods,” “Sandman” and “Coraline”: Would the golden-voiced Gaiman be willing to do a dramatic reading of the famously extensive Cheesecake Factory menu if fans raised $500,000 for charity?

For the record:

2:47 p.m. June 15, 2024UPDATE: This post was updated with the information that Neil Gaiman would read something for the fundraiser’s fans.


Gaiman was game:

Benincasa started a fundraiser on the crowdfunding site Crowdrise, hoping to raise half a million dollars for the charity Gaiman chose, the UNHCR, the refugee agency of the United Nations. Her hope was to raise $500,000 by June 20, which is World Refugee Day.

That was the day that $10,000 landed — a big donation in a fundraiser that had received hundreds of pledges of less than $100 — and put the fund over $100,000.

The $10,000 donation was made anonymously in the name of Kinga and Max. It was an hat-tip to a certain nerdy fan: Kinga and Max, played by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt, are two characters in the reboot of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the cult favorite show that features snarky commentary on old, low-budget movies.


The campaign fell short of its $500,000 goal, but had still raised more than $111,000 as of Wednesday morning. “It started as a half-joke with a half-million-dollar challenge,” Benincasa wrote on Facebook. “Well, we haven’t gotten there but I promised myself if we made over six figures for refugees I’d be happy — and thanks to folks on these very interwebs, we have. I’m delighted. Thank you most of all to Neil Gaiman. Go thank him on Twitter today for the great work he does for the world (not just the entertainment stuff, either!).”

The end of the fundraiser didn’t go unnoticed by Gaiman:

The author left a burning question unanswered, though: Even though the fundraiser didn’t bring in $500,000, will he go through with the menu reading anyway? A fantasy fan on Twitter proposed a possible compromise:

In the end, Gaiman agreed to read something shorter than the Cheesecake Factory menu. Benincasa took a Twitter poll; the choices were three Cheesecake Factory submenus — Cheesecake Appetizers, Cheesecake Cheesecakes, and Cheesecake Glamburgers — “Fox in Socks” by Dr. Seuss. “Fox In Sox” won. So Gaiman will be reading Dr. Seuss for us all very soon.