It’s not surprising to see a close-up of Seth Rogen’s junk as he takes a hit off a vape pen with his (obviously fake) uncircumcised penis at the very start of his Hilarity for Charity Netflix special. That’s what Seth Rogen does: he uses modern technology to smoke weed through his dick. Everybody knows that. It is surprising to see The Muppets show up about ten minutes later, though, after another bit involving fake dicks, and after Michael Che’s stand-up routine about a gay man trying to get him drunk enough to have sex. I expected Rogen’s special to be pretty childish, no matter how serious its mission is (it’s raising money and awareness for Alzheimer’s); I didn’t expect beloved children’s entertainment characters to pop by between the drug jokes and full frontal cartoon nudity.
I’m not saying that’s bad, or anything. The big Muppets segment here starts with a decent concept—Chelsea Peretti plays the Netflix executive in charge of the “3000” stand-up specials the network aired last year, interviewed in a short documentary about the only legendary comedian who didn’t get a Netflix deal. (I won’t spoil it, but, uh, again, it involves The Muppets, so…) Peretti and Kumail Nanjiani are great at sending up the faux profundity of documentaries, but when the Muppet crew takes the stage for a group sing along, the energy in the building seems to stall out a bit. It’s almost like the tastefully dressed audience members (who no doubt donated generously to get a seat) recognized the incongruity of Gonzo and Kermit singing a sweet, nostalgic song mere minutes after a parade of internationally themed fake dicks marched across the same stage.
This is a glorified variety show, of course. And The Muppet Show was the introduction to that genre for an entire generation of kids, one which Rogen is a part of. So it makes a bit of sense to invite them on, and it’s not like Disney has done a particularly great job of respecting the legacy of The Muppets or Jim Henson, anyway. Still, if you have a Muppets-loving kid, maybe wait a few years before letting them stream this one.
That variety show structure is the event’s greatest asset. If one act doesn’t work for you, it’ll only be a few minutes before another stand-up takes the stage, or before Rogen introduces another pretaped segment. Those films are amiable enough but always come back to Rogen’s love of weed, which gets more than a little repetitive. The most notable film is probably an original cartoon by Justin Roiland, the co-creator of Rick and Morty. Let’s just say that this intentionally grotesque short won’t make up for the long wait between seasons.
Thankfully the live lineup features some of the best stand-up comedians working today, including Michelle Wolf, Tiffany Haddish, John Mulaney and Sarah Silverman. (And yes, Michael Che’s there, too.) Wolf and Mulaney carve out sharp seven minute servings from their full sets, with Wolf, the host of the upcoming White House Correspondents’ Dinner, landing hard with incisive comments on sexual harassment and the immigration debate. Haddish reasserts her hard-earned status as everybody’s newest favorite human by showing the same kind of candor and charisma that has made her a highlight of Saturday Night Live, the Oscars and every other place she’s been invited over the last year; her set feels less like stand-up comedy than a conversation with a hilarious friend who wants to tell you about that time she got to party with Beyoncé after the Academy Awards.
Kermit returns for a second segment near the end, where he sings “The Rainbow Connection” with Rogen and his wife, Lauren Miller Rogen, after a serious and sad look at her mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and the work their charity does to help families bear the financial burden of caring for those with the disease. This time the little guy fits in perfectly. Started six years ago as a live event in Hollywood, this year’s show, which was taped at the Palladium in Hollywood last month, is the first to be released to the public, and honestly it defies criticism by its very nature. We’re not going to dunk hard on a show with such a great goal, even if about half of it doesn’t really work that well as comedy. As an attempt to raise money and awareness for this horrible, depressing disease, Hilarity for Charity is an honorable, well-intentioned success, no matter how much it does or does not make its viewers laugh.
Oh, the best thing about this show: It puts the Post Malone performance at the very end, so you can catch all the good stuff and just turn it off as soon as he hits the stage. That’s real charity, right there.
If you want to learn more about Hilarity for Charity, visit their site or the charity’s donation site.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.