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Emerson Sponsoring Comedy Benefit for Grassroots Nonprofits

Left to right, comedians Liza Donnelly, Erin Jackson, Wendy Liebman, Chris Tabb, Kelly MacFarland, and Vicky Kuperman, at last year's Share a Laugh Comedy Show at the Somerville Theatre. Photo/Ellen Shub 

There are a number of social justice issues confronting Boston-area residents, and for one night only, funding federation Community Works and Emerson’s Elma Lewis Center will just laugh and laugh. And they hope you will too.

The Share a Laugh Comedy Show is a benefit to raise money for Community Works, an organization that raises and distributes money to Greater Boston grassroots organizations. It’s being sponsored this year by the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research, and will be held Thursday, June 2, 7:30 pm, at the Paramount Mainstage.

Headliners include standup comedian Wendy Liebman; Jon Rineman ’05, head monologue writer on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; and New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly. Emerson College faculty member Mike Bent ’85 and recent alumnus Wes Hauptman ’16 will also grab a mic.

“We’re really encouraging Emerson folks to buy a ticket and attend the show,” said Ashley Tarbet DeStefano, program coordinator at the Elma Lewis Center. “There are some wonderful performers that are going to be there, but again, it goes toward a really great cause, and it’s just a testament to the type of impactful work that we can do as a community here.”

Community Works was started in 1982, after a series of government cutbacks choked off funding to small nonprofit organizations that were serving disenfranchised communities, said Fran Froehlich, one of Community Works’ founders and its executive director from 1999 to 2015,  who is helping organize the event. It’s modeled to an extent on the United Way, which raises money through workplace donation drives and individual giving, but it remains local and its membership includes small grassroots social justice-centered nonprofits.

For most of the past several years, Emerson’s Office of Academic Engagement and Community Action (OAEC) has been sending a student volunteer to Community Works to help out with communications, design, and writing, and Emerson allows employees to donate to Community Works through a payroll deduction, Tarbet DeStefano said. But this is the first year the Elma Lewis Center, which oversees OAEC, has sponsored the nine-year-old Share a Laugh benefit.

“The relationship [with Emerson] was just so positive on both sides, and we kind of got closer and closer until this past fall, we kind of formalized the relationship with one of the programs at Elma Lewis,” Froehlich said. “We’re sympatico. We’re about the same social justice movement.”

Froehlich said they had already decided to hold this year’s show at the Paramount, when she learned about Emerson’s new BFA in Comedic Arts.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is great; why don’t we have someone from the school in the show?’” she recalled.

She met with Martie Cook, director of the Comedic Arts program, and Cook reached out to Wes Hauptman, who won an EVVY Award this year for Outstanding Comedian. Bent, senior affiliated faculty, and Rineman, an Emerson alumnus, were already attached to the show.

Hauptman said he has never done a charity event before, and he had never heard of Community Works until he Googled it, but “it turns out it’s really, really cool.”

He said he’ll probably do a 4- to 5-minute set similar to the one he performed at the EVVYs.

“Most of my jokes are kind of deadpan one-liners, like real setup-punchline, setup-punchline-type things,” said Hauptman, who is moving to Los Angeles this summer.

“I’m such an incredibly huge fan of so many people who are [in the show],” said Hauptman, who singled out Rineman and Donnelly “who I’ve loved since I could read the New Yorker.

“There’s just going to be a lot of really, really, really good comedians there.”

Tickets to Share a Laugh are $35 ($15 for students with ID), and can be purchased at the Paramount website.

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