“We want this special to be seen as many people as possible,” Seth Rogen tells the crowd at the Hollywood Palladium, where his new Netflix variety special, Hilarity for Charity was filmed in late March. Best known for films like Knocked Up and Neighbors, the comedic actor and his wife, screenwriter and actress Lauren Miller Rogen, are the minds (and muscles) behind the “Hilarity for Charity” organization. Founded in 2012, the group has raised millions of dollars for Alzheimer’s disease research and at-home care for those affected by it with annual charity shows. Hence Rogen’s plea for getting as many people to see it as possible.
Said plea also serves as the basis for one of the special’s predominant themes: tricking the Netflix algorithm (delightfully portrayed by Jeff Goldblum) into slapping as many categories on it as possible. In the context of the show’s many sketches and stand-up performances, the gag pays off as it stays true to the “variety” of its format. Then again, previous “Hilarity for Charity” events have always stuck to particular themes, be it hosting a bar mitzvah for James Franco or throwing a prom with musical guests Bell Biv Devoe. As Rogen explains it, however, it was important to play to the audience at home this time around.
“For this year’s show theme, we decided to make things a little more clear,” Rogen tells us. “All we had to go on was they were going to be watching it on Netflix, so that seemed like a good place to start.” Yet there’s a lot more to Hilarity for Charity than simply cracking a bunch of jokes about the streaming giant’s hyper-focus on stand-up comedy, for as Rogen reveals later in our conversation with him, he and Lauren Miller’s annual charity falls in line with a long history of similar functions put on by comedians past and present. “I grew up watching Comic Relief,” he says of the American specials from the late ’80s and early ’90s starring Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and the late Robin Williams. “It was a huge part of my childhood.”
What kinds of reactions have you seen to the taped Netflix special so far?
People seem into it. I don’t know. It seems like people like it. I mean, people online also love to say how much they hate things, but there haven’t been a lot of people telling me how much they hate this. So whenever that happens, I consider it to be something that’s very successful.
True, but considering the cause, I imagine a lot of it has been positive.
Very much so. It seems as though a lot of people are engaged. What’s so cool about it, to me, is that I’m getting a lot of messages from people that are like, “I’ve literally never donated to charity before, and after watching this, I feel inclined to donate.” And honestly, even if people don’t give a lot of money, it’s very meaningful to us that they’re engaged, and that they’re becoming a part of our efforts to try to solve these problems. To become a part of the conversation about Alzheimer’s disease, which they’re actually contributing to when they donate just a few bucks. Honestly, I’ve been amazed by how many people actually seem to be doing that.