The late, great Peter Boyle may have shuffled off this mortal coil nearly a decade ago, but anyone who was lucky enough to be at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Saturday night will tell you his memory —and legacy of laughter – is alive and well.
The occasion was the International Myeloma Foundation's 9th Annual Comedy Celebration to benefit the Peter Boyle Research Fund, named in honor of the Emmy Award-winning actor who passed away in late 2006 after a four-year battle against the bone marrow cancer. The effort, long spearheaded by his widow, Loraine Boyle, has raised more than $5 million since 2007.
Peter Boyle wasn't the only person being remembered at this year's event, which was dedicated to the memory of Michael S. Katz, an International Myeloma Foundation board member who had battled the disease himself for the last 25 years before passing away in April.
Ray Romano, Boyle's "Everybody Loves Raymond" co-star and longtime host of the event, kicked things off via a video announcement from New York City, apologizing for not being able to attend.
"I miss Peter," Romano said, "especially right now with Donald Trump running for president. Peter, you would love this!"
With that, Romano handed the on-site hosting duties to comedian Fred Willard, who in his own affably addled way managed to touch on a range of topics including cross-dressing and hotel wake-up calls in his run-up to introducing the evening's slate of comedians.
First out of the gate was Jeff Garlin ("The Goldbergs, "Curb Your Enthusiasm") who riffed on Krispy Kreme drive-bys ("five doughnuts is just the right number because you can say you had 'some doughnuts' – if you get six you have to say 'a half dozen'), places he'll never go (Ferris wheels, lotion shops) and gazebo-based sexual shenanigans. He was followed to the stage by comedian Heather McDonald ("Chelsea Lately"), ventriloquist Jay Johnson (and his arm-based sidekick, Bob) and comedian Andy Kindler ("Hitler was lactose tolerant," Kindler said. "That was the only thing he was tolerant of ...").
The final comic to take the stage was the brilliant Tig Notaro, whose own ability to pull laughs from the jaws of misfortune (she famously turned the one-two punch of her mother's death and her own breast cancer diagnosis into a comedy set) mirrors the comedy fundraisers effort's to leverage laughter for the greater good. Notaro (who noted that she's getting married in two weeks), made mirthful mountains out of the mundane mole hills of relationships from the asking of inane questions ("How do I know what time Yum Yum Donuts opens? You're not dating Google") to being left to drive herself home from a wisdom tooth extraction ("The girl I was dating at the time said she couldn't get time off from work – but the thing was she was self-employed").
The evening came to a close with musical guest Paul Shaffer ("The Late Show With David Letterman") at the piano, a short but sweet three-song set that ended with the indelibly hilarious image of Fred Willard, Tig Notaro and Heather McDonald serving as backup singers to Shaffer on the dance hit "It's Raining Men" (which, you may or may not recall, Shaffer co-wrote in 1979 with Paul Jabara.)
Whether or not laughter is truly the best medicine, Saturday night's event proved it can go a long way toward funding the best medicine – as of this writing organizers estimate that ticket sales and two on-site auctions (one silent and one live) have added some $600,000 to the IMF's ongoing battle against myeloma.