Seth Rogen Fights Alzheimer’s Through Comedy With ‘Hilarity for Charity’

Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity” is a different sort of Netflix comedy special in that it’s actually a fundraiser. Seth Rogen himself is more of an MC in these proceedings, introducing fellow comedians and skits in an effort to raise awareness in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Touched by his wife’s own struggles with a mother afflicted by the disease, Rogen keeps his usual brand of humor intact but with a serious subtext. What results is a show where the cause is worthy, the approach slightly messy. It’s quite a balance to combine heartfelt pleas with dick jokes.

The special, which was shot at the Hollywood Palladium, is structured as a series of stand-up routines punctuated by serious discussions about Alzheimer’s. Rogen can’t help himself and opens the proceedings right away with a skit involving himself vaping through his penis (a prosthetic one to be sure). Featured guests include Sarah Silverman, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Che, Tiffany Haddish and John Mulaney and Sacha Baron Cohen. The Muppets also pop in to sing some songs and back up Fozzie Bear as he attempts to do stand-up.

So how does one pull off a comedy charity on Netflix while keeping the spirit of its venue? The answer seems to be that you simply do the same jokes you would do in a regular special, with a few interjections of serious talk. Interestingly enough, Rogen gives very little attention to Alzheimer’s itself. The show can feel like an event where everyone has already read the mission statement before taking their seats. The most powerful moment during “Hilarity for Charity” comes near the end, when Rogen’s wife Lauren Miller Rogen appears onstage and shares about her mother, with striking footage used to show the very profound effects of Alzheimer’s. It brings the point across with much effect. But it is also the only truly noteworthy moment dealing with the key issue in the entire, short running time of the special itself (1 hour and 10 minutes).

The featured talents are of course talented and funny, but we get very little of them. Sarah Silverman only delivers one bit of material concerning letting her pet lick off the residue of lovemaking. However her opening line is funny and delivered in that down to earth tone she pulls off well, “I’m finally going to do it, I’m not going to have children.”  Mulaney does an intriguing bit about being 35 with a wife who is crushing hard on Timothée Chalamet. Michael Che turns his act into sly political commentary. He looks out into the audience and says, “black people do not care about this cause apparently.” But he loses gas when he goes into a rather bizarre joke about being able to spot who is gay at a bar.

Among the skits that intercut between Rogen and the comics, Sacha Baron Cohen starts off well with a hilarious take on National Geographic in which he does a human safari. Cohen starts naming the various “species” inherent to Los Angeles including “The Agent, The Publicist, and an entire sub-species of the Wanker.” This one too loses its punchline when it becomes an expedition following Rogen as he seeks a proper space to masturbate. But when it works it is pure hilarity.

The true show stealers are the Muppets, unsurprisingly. When Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest appear onstage to sing the show achieves a more classic fundraising special feel. It is also feels like a return to a more simple, genuine humor where we don’t need Rogen to parade different kinds of wooden penises.

“Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity” is a heartfelt endeavor seeking a better format. It should have given a little more space to its marquee names and also to its main subject. But for Rogen’s fans they will get a rare double bill, their favorite dick jokes in service of a good cause.

Seth Rogen’s sixth annual “Hilarity for Charity” took place March 24 at the Hollywood Palladium and airs April 6 on Netflix.