A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend Night of Too Many Stars, an annual autism fundraiser hosted by Jon Stewart and held at the Beacon Theatre in NYC. I was asked by Autism Speaks to write a blog post for them about the event. This was originally published on the Autism Speaks blog on October 20th, 2012 [Link here.]
From the moment you enter the front doors of the Beacon Theatre and lay eyes upon the gilded walls and brightly painted ceilings, you are in another world. The Beacon looked to me the way that I’ve always imagined theatres to look like in my dreams: Somewhat magical, and with the power to make you think you’ve left your cares and worries behind, even for just a few hours.
For many people, however, A Night of Too Many Stars had everything to do with our cares and worries, and was the reason why we were there. My friend Nicole and I were seated in the very last row of the Right Orchestra section, but our view was still fantastic.
A collage of differently-shaped television screens hung against a colorfully lit curtain, and white lights dazzled from above in multiple configurations. The house band was situated on the right side of the stage, and the Night of Too Many Stars logo was displayed proudly on the center screen, which served as the backdrop for the main attraction.
And what an attraction it was.
The night flowed almost effortlessly, with Jon Stewart as a steady guiding hand and host. It was my first time seeing him in person, but he looked and made me laugh just like he does on TV. Some of my favorite moments of the night were watching Jon, who sat crouched over by the band when other comedians or guests were doing their skits, crack up laughing. I’ve always wondered what makes the people who make me laugh laugh themselves, and that night, I got to find out.
As with any live show, the night had its high point and its low point. The low point unquestionably came when they had two girls from “Jersey Shore” onstage, along with a cast member from “The Sopranos” impersonating New Jersey governor Chris Christie. It was absolutely, bar none, a complete flop. All the skit consisted of was the girls swearing for no reason, and “Governor Christie” eating a sandwich and making fun of the girls for no reason. It was painfully unfunny, as evidenced by the fact that nobody in the audience was laughing, and you could hear the collective sighs of relief once it ended.
Then there was the high point.
Throughout the night, they showed videos of some of the various autism programs that the monies raised would be going towards. At one point, a video of a young girl with autism named Jodi was shown. As part of the intensive treatment Jodi has undergone since age 2, she plays the piano; now, at 10 years old, Jodi is a huge fan of Katy Perry. In the video, she is seen playing the Katy Perry song “Firework” on the piano, and this segued into Jodi playing the same song on piano right there on stage…with Ms. Perry joining her for a duet.
It was one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen. You would have been very hard-pressed to find a dry eye in the house after that number, especially given that it concluded with Jodi getting up from the piano and wrapping her arms around Katy in a big hug. Having played the piano myself as a child, the moment resonated with me on a personal level, but what really made me nearly lose it was when Jon Stewart came back to the stage, his eyes clearly red-rimmed from tears, and how he had to pause because he could not speak for fear of crying.
As exciting as the celebrity-filled moments were, the lens through which I ultimately viewed the evening was what it all means for people on the autism spectrum. I found myself taking mental notes of things that I would do differently, such as some of the language in the program that we were given.
Phrases such as “autism robs children and adults of their capacity to function normally in society,” jumped out at me, as did some of the comedians who used parts of their act to harshly make fun of “nerds,” or who said things like “This is what happens when you get rid of bullying.”
Being a person who has lived on the autism spectrum her entire life, and who knows all too well what it feels like to be bullied, I think that I had a different perspective than the majority of the audience. While Night of Too Many Stars is certainly a wonderful, worthwhile event, and I am thrilled that a child with autism was afforded such an incredible opportunity and made so visible, the things that I mentioned above show just how much work there is still to be done.
After I first arrived at the Beacon Theatre and got to my seat, I walked up towards the front of the theatre. There I saw people that I know from several autism organizations, and was happily and warmly greeted by all. In the past, I’ve often attended events where I’m just with the person who “knows people”…but this time that person was me, and in a night filled with so many stars, I felt like I was one of them.
It is my hope that all people on the autism spectrum will have the chance to be the stars of their own lives, and with the continued help of awareness and fundraising events like Night of Too Many Stars, it will one day happen.