Comics Come Home Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

November 20, 2019 | By Sophie Cannon

“This can really get old and dull real quick, and it doesn't. Every year is epic.” Comedian Robert Kelly was spot on, as the 25th anniversary of the longest running comedy charity show in America kicked off. 


Comics Come Home, hosted at TD Garden on Nov. 9, is a yearly tradition for Boston comics and visiting comedians. The charity fundraiser benefits the Cam Neely Foundation, which runs a house for the families of those undergoing cancer treatments at Tufts Medical Center. According to their website, since they opened the Neely House in 1997, over 6,500 families have stayed there while loved ones received treatment. 


The anniversary line-up was a good mix of old and new faces, featuring returning icons like the six-time attendee Robert Kelly, Lenny Clarke, Bill Burr, Steven Wright, and Joe Yannety. Fresher faces included John Mulaney and Pete Holmes, and first-time performer Kelly MacFarland rounded out the list as the only female performer and first-timer on the Comics Come Home stage. When asked about the lack of female performers, MacFarland stated that she hopes that the future of female comics can follow in her footsteps. 


Photos by Sophie Cannon

“I’m gonna show up and do my job and do what I do every week for the last 20 years and I’m gonna slay!” she said. “Your point of view is yours, own it and start writing. Be brave and be bold and just go for it. There is space and voices that need to be represented, so get out there.” 


Before the headliners started cracking jokes, the night started out as a sentimental one, with many thanks being given for the longevity of the event. After a few opening remarks, Michael J. Fox was the first surprise of the night, making a speech at the podium. After a closing with “have a great f*****g time,” the night began in earnest, passing the mic to host and fellow actor, Denis Leary. 


Like years past, Leary opened with a few musical numbers. The first was a montage of the past 25 years, featuring a slideshow of former talent including Tracey Morgan, Jimmy Fallon, Jim Gaffigan, and many more. Then, Leary grabbed the mic for a parody rendition of (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones. Sang entirely in a Boston accent, it poked fun at all the things Bostonians hold near and dear, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Fenway Park, and Tom Brady. 

“I love singing that f*****g song, it makes me feel like I’m in Woost-ah!” Leary proclaimed after the song had ended.

This year, as pointed out by host Denis Leary, each of the eight performers had some sort of tie to Massachusetts. Pete Holmes, who grew up in a suburb of Boston, brought that fact directly into his set. “I’m from Lexington,” said Holmes. “I usually say I’m from Boston because I look like I’m from Kentucky.” Others, like John Mulaney, used Boston as a punchline to start off his set. “You scare me, you know you do, and you like it,” Mulaney said of Bostonians. 


The first performer to take the stage not only had a tie to Massachusetts, having grown up in East Boston, but also had a personal connection to the cause of the evening. Joe Yannety, a seasoned comic and Comics Come Home veteran, can now add cancer survivor to his list of accomplishments. Newly in remission after his battle with throat cancer, Yannety had some things to share about what treatment can do to you — and your marriage. 


“You forget important s**t, like don’t f*****g get married again,” Yannety said, referring to “chemo-brain” and its side effects. “I also did stupid s**t… I climbed Mount Washington. Look at me. God designed me to stay at sea level.” 


Before leaving the stage, Yannety scanned the crowd and called out for the spotlight to find his daughter in the audience. After announcing that Rosie and her husband both served in the Air Force and pausing for the round of applause that followed, Yannety delivered the news, and the second surprise of the night.

Denis Leary and John Mulaney.jpg

Photos by Sophie Cannon

John Mulaney (left) and Denis Leary (right)

“You ready Rosie? It’s a boy!” announced the grandpa-to-be, opening a sealed envelope and completing one of the best gender reveals of all time.


Pete Holmes took to the stage with a relatively clean set. He acknowledged this balance of clean and raunchy after a joke that was a bit too intellectual for the crowd, saying, “Someone tweet that joke to the nerds at MIT.”


Holmes was then followed by the most unexpected act of the evening in terms of style. Emerson graduate Stephen Wright, from Burlington, Massachusetts, didn’t perform a normal routine or a narrative like the others. Instead, with a deadpan expression and monotone voice, his act was a string of insightful and ridiculous shower thoughts. Without so much as a hello, Wright took center stage, looked around, and in his raspy voice began.


“I was once involved in an isosceles love triangle,” then a beat, “If I ever had a time machine, I’d go into the future to see how new ones were built,” and then, “All search parties are surprise parties.” The one-liners killed with the crowd; after taking a moment to think about each statement, they roared with laughter and clapped in agreement. 


Between the remaining sets of the night, there were a few more surprises for this special anniversary show. A video message featuring Jimmy Fallon sitting behind his Tonight Show desk was played, as Fallon issued a fundraising challenge to Leary. In order to receive a $10,000 donation to the Neely House, the talk show host asked Leary to wear a Yankees jersey. After an appropriate amount of booing from the crowd, the Worcester fire department saved the day by lighting the shirt on fire for an audience donation of $30,000, more than doubling the amount offered by Fallon and saving Leary from Boston’s scorn. 


The last guest star followed Lenny Clake’s performance of both a song and a stand-up routine. After leaving the stage in his gold lamé suit, he ran back to the mic to introduce the guest of honor: Mayor Martin J. Walsh. With a mix of both jeers and cheers from the crowd, Mayor Walsh read his speech off of a fancy letterhead. After singing the praises of both the Cam Neely Foundation and Denis Leary for co-founding this event, Walsh announced that from now on, November 9th would be known as Denis Leary Day in the city of Boston. For the remainder of the evening, Leary would remark iterations of, “Well, this is the best Denis Leary Day ever, huh?” 


John Mulaney took the stage next, and for any returning guests from his show two days prior at Northeastern University, it was a bit like déjà vu. Aside from the impromptu jokes about co-op, the set was very similar. When asked about which audience he prefered to perform for, Mulaney gave credit to the college audience for making those shows special. 


“On a group show you want to be respectful of the time you are allotted. Colleges, I have to admit, I love doing the hour that I planned, but I really like to talk to people in the crowd and I do it way more than I do it in a theatre show.” 


Photos by Sophie Cannon

And for those that attended the Homecoming show with Mulaney and Nick Kroll, many were wondering about a very specific audience question regarding sea creatures. With a laugh, Mulaney said, “Yeah and I wish we’d given a moment to think about it, ‘cause it’s interesting, but it’s just, ya know, we had a hard out.” 


Robert Kelly was the penultimate act of the eight-person group and related to the crowd with musings from his younger (and skinnier) life. “I’m 49. Do you guys remember running?” asked Kelly. “Remember making out? Around 45 you decide to stop doing that.” After spending the rest of his set describing a plus-sized snow-tubing trip gone wrong, Kelly was replaced with the closing act, Bill Burr. 


Infamous for his blunt nature, many in the crowd were less receptive to his closing remarks. Touching on everything from cancel culture to being woke, he then launched full force on to abortion and LGBTQ+ people, namely lesbians. Burr is no stranger to political correctness — or really a complete stranger, as he told Artistry before the show. 


“I didn't change. If you watch all my specials, it’s the same level of ignorance pre-this stuff and after,” Burr explained. “I think [political correctness] is not the place for what I do. I’m an idiot. If I was on Capitol Hill and making decisions about people’s future, then yeah. But my job is to be an idiot, and I’m crushing it!” 


The remaining audience members knew the show was over, and for returning guests to this benefit, they knew that meant it was time for one last song. In a sea of yellow and black confetti Leary was back, Boston accent strong, as he sang The A**hole Song that pokes fun, once again, at the “Mass-hole” way of life. 


With all the comedians back on stage, the song ended with one more reminder from Leary on his inaugural holiday. 


“I’m an asshole, but I got my own f*****g day!