I sat down the other night to watch Night of Too Many Stars with the expectation of enjoying a few laughs in the name of a worthwhile cause.
The Jon Stewart-organized event airs on Comedy Central and lassos a ridiculous number of celebrities to raise funds for autism education. The laughs were certainly there, ranging from a chipmunk-voiced debate between Chris Matthews and Bill O’Reilly to TV personality Donny Deutsch paying $36,000 for a “pee party” with Seth Rogan.
I did not, however, expect to be so genuinely moved in between the acts of sophomoric humor. I don’t mist up or get goose bumps easily. This and this can do the trick, but not much else. So when a young autistic girl appeared on stage and proceeded to awe the crowd with a beautiful duet in tandem with Katy Perry, I quickly came down with a case of seasonal allergies, as Stewart would later admit. Slapstick humor had suddenly taken a backseat to raw and powerful emotion.
The moment was a primetime example of when a cause reaches beyond its typical audience of stakeholders and generates mainstream support. I have no personal connection to autism, a disorder affecting roughly 1 in 88 children, but the magic of the moment lied in how I and no doubt millions others suddenly felt as if we did. Witnessing firsthand the potential of an overlooked and misunderstood population compelled me to donate. I would bet overall donations spiked in the minutes following the performance.
Non-profits and cause organizations are no strangers to using powerful human-interest stories to drive action from their target audiences. One autistic girl’s talents only reinforced that plucking on heartstrings is the surest way to open purse strings.