In my professional life I’m known as the “queen of after-school homework centers”—that is, I study homework help programs offered by public libraries after school. I am, of course, also a big fan of homework assistance provided by other agencies, including 826, a national nonprofit co-founded by author Dave Eggers eight years ago. 826 combines pop culture, celebrity (as well as non-celebrity) tutors, and fun to make homework attractive to kids who might not otherwise get the help they need. There are two 826 outlets in L.A.
Judd Apatow, one of our favorite filmmakers, is also a big fan of 826 and, in fact, held a big fundraiser a couple of years ago to help launch the Echo Park Time Travel Mart, one of 826’s wacky storefronts. He’s also donating the proceeds from his new book I Found This Funny, which was released last night at another big fundraising event. We were there.
The event was held at the Writers Guild of America theater in Beverly Hills, one block from Kate Mantilini, the single best restaurant in L.A. for spotting celebrities—plus the food is fabulous! We arrived early enough so we could eat dinner before joining the festivities. No surprise that Judd Apatow was there, too, sitting two tables away from us. We watched as people came over to pay their respects and exclaim their excitement about the night ahead. We, on the other hand, played it cool and focused our energies on eating. We then walked over to the theater.
There was no red carpet—unusual for an event that promised star wattage—but there was a gaggle of autograph-seekers standing outside the front door. They took one look at us and quickly went back to talking among themselves. Obviously we were nobodies. We then entered the theater’s lobby and were greeted by the happy din of a couple hundred people drinking and having a good time. These were the VIPs—mostly young hipsters, dressed in black—who had paid top dollar to attend. We did not pay top dollar, so were handed copies of Apatow’s book and told to find a seat in the theater. The show started 30 minutes later.
After a short film about 826’s Echo Park site, Dave Eggers got the ball rolling by introducing Apatow, who riffed a bit before introducing standup comedian Aziz Ansari (Tom on the TV show Parks and Recreation). Ansari was hilarious, talking about dating in L.A. and why men his age (27 years old) should not be parents (very funny, but unrepeatable in a PG-rated blog!). He was followed by Ryan Adams, a young country-rock singer who apparently hasn’t performed on stage in a while. I had never heard of him, but did enjoy his folksy style.
The highlight of the evening, though—and, quite frankly, one of the main reasons we went—was Garry Shandling, Apatow’s comic mentor, whom we’ve seen several times. Shandling was a riot, dispensing deadpan dating advice to Aziz Ansari and commenting on current affairs. His best line of the night: “I see Sarah Palin is thinking of running for president. I guess the Mayans were right about the world coming to an end in 2012.” He also said he didn’t care if Muslims built a mosque on the site of the World Trade Center, because there is no such thing as sacred land in Los Angeles. “Except, of course, the La Brea tarpits, but even there the buildings are a little too close to the edge.” Ahhh, L.A. humor!
The other highlight was Randy Newman, who sang a few songs, including our anthem “I Love L.A.” Afterward I grumped to Tim that the audience should have burst into spontaneously singing during “I Love L.A.,” but then decided they were probably all too young to know the lyrics.
The evening ended with former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham singing four of his greatest hits. Why he needed a different guitar for each song was beyond me, but the audience didn’t seem to care. They gave him a rousing standing ovation when he was done.