Comics Come Home 22 exposes divisiveness of audiences to political comedy in 2016

Denis Leary isn’t afraid of being an asshole.

It’s the title of his longtime hit comedy single, and Leary has even updated it with the times. This August, Leary changed his 1990s tune to “Trump’s An Asshole” for a performance on The Late Late Show with James Corden. And on Saturday night, in the TD Garden arena for Leary’s 22nd annual Comics Come Home benefit in Boston, raising money for the Cam Neely Foundation, Leary made fun of both President-elect Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Leary even put up a photo of Trump next to an orangutan.

That was fair game for the Boston crowd.

The lineup for the 2016 event featured Jay Larson, Wendy Liebman, Lenny Clarke, Wanda Sykes, Bill Burr and Robert Kelly.

When Sykes took the stage, introduced by Leary as one of his Ice Age co-stars, she thanked Boston for always being good to her. Well, up to this point. Sykes said as a black gay woman, “shit’s fucked up” right now. Sykes made fun of Boston comedian Lenny Clarke for wearing lime green pants onstage, but said he could get away with it now as a white guy in Trump’s America. It’s angry white men’s turn once more, she joked. “You can wear lime green sherbet pants in Donald Trump’s America,” she joked. “It is angry white man time right now. Donald Trump won. Angry white guys rule. They fucking showed up at the playground, and said stop all that dunking and give me my ball back.”

She continued: “All I can think is that somewhere Caitlyn Jenner is going, Shit! I really should’ve waited this thing out. I fucking jumped the gun on this one.” Laughs. When Sykes called Trump an orangutan, no laughs, just silence. So she then tried joking about how white people love nostalgia and host parties like the Roaring 20s, while black people only like to go back as far as the 1970s. All was relatively well until Sykes talked about consoling friends after the election by reminding them Trump wasn’t our first “racist, sexist homophobic president.”

The crowd booed and whistled. “Fuck you, motherfuckers. Fuck all y’all.” Then some in the crowd countered the boos with cheers, creating a straight-up cacophony of noise.

Then Nick DiPaolo took the stage after Sykes. DiPaolo, never apologetic about his conservative political views, went right in. He joked about loving the election. “I’m a straight white guy and I’m ecstatic about how the election went,” he said. But when he countered Sykes with more of his political jokes, the crowd began turning on him, too. At one point, a woman from the audience approached the stage, and DiPaolo called her a “Peabody Jew.”

As DiPaolo told the Boston Herald afterward, about Sykes: She just kept digging a deeper hole for herself. It was making my blood boil. There’s a segment — and they were there last night — who don’t agree with what she was saying. It was a little too soon to take such a stance…You have to be funny first…Otherwise, it’s just preaching. Last night, she just took the wrong angle.”

Afterward, most comedians were silent on social media about the event, save for posting photos and expressing thanks for being part of raising money for the Neely Foundation. Not DiPaolo. He responded to critics and RT’d fans who supported him and bashed Sykes some more.

Other fans, including actress Eliza Dushku and comedian Wendy Liebman (who went onstage before Sykes at the event), expressed their support for Sykes and admonished the crowd.

Most of the other performers remained silent over the weekend, withholding public comments on the show.

Sykes did make this statement via Facebook on Monday night:

“I wanted to address some of the accounts that have come up about last Saturday’s show in Boston. First of all, I was not booed OFF stage. I didn’t go anywhere. I was booed while ON stage in the middle of my set. Some people in the audience didn’t want to hear my Trump jokes. Hell, I couldn’t even get to the punchlines. They were booing the setups. They were yelling for me to shut the F up and to go F myself, so I simply told them how that made me feel. 😌 I then moved on to other material, got some laughs and said goodnight. I left the stage with my head held high and with my middle finger even higher. Then “some woman,” who happens to be my beautiful wife, ran onstage, gave me a huge kiss, and flashed the peace sign. To my surprise, the audience cheered and applauded. It was a great moment and it gave me a little hope for our future. Peace & Love, Wanda”

And Leary put out a statement after Comics Come Home to remind everyone what the event’s about, raising more than $10 million for the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care.

“For 22 years we have never censored any performer at Comics Come Home. Each comedian is free to speak their mind. This has resulted in the longest running stand up charity event in America. Even this past weekend, 6 of the 8 comics received big laughs and rapturous applause. As I say each time we do this concert, the Boston audiences are the best in the country and their support of The Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care has been absolutely exceptional. We look forward to Comics Come Home 23 next November.”

And leave it to Bill Burr to have a great last word on it. Fans in attendance weighed in, saying Burr and Robert Kelly helped save the whole thing with their closing sets.

On Burr’s newest episode of his Monday Morning Podcast, Burr recalled how momentous it was to perform as a young Boston comedian on Comics Come Home 20 years ago, back when it was at the Orpheum. Burr said Jay Larson did so much better in 2016, in the much bigger setting of the Garden, than Burr had back in 1996.

“That was cool, because me and Bobby were closing it out. He’s part of my stand-up graduation class, and I remember when we both first got to do it, we were in the Jay Larson spot. The first guy out. The new guy. Which is really hard, because nobody knows who you are enough, and you got to go up. And that was just the Orpheum. And Larson went up at the fucking TD BankNorth Garden where the Bruins and Celtics play, and he fucking killed. Looked totally relaxed. I remember watching him, going like, ‘I wasn’t that relaxed the first time I did it.’ And it was just in a theater. You know. It was cool. I had some friends there, too, that was their first comedy show they’d ever been to, and let’s just say they saw the gamut of everything that could possibly happen when you go onstage. Man, it was fucking, it was a fun night. It was a fun, fucking night.”

And no matter where you stand, you must agree that James Shotwell did, in fact, shoot well with his camera.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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