It’s only been a few weeks since wildfires devastated the Hawaiian island of Maui, but as Los Angeles-based comedian Willie Simon can tell you, sometimes that’s all it takes for many to forget about a tragedy.
“We had the hurricane last week in L.A. and that kind of shifted everyone’s focus away,” he said. “They’re still finding peoples’ remains [in Hawaii] and we want to keep it in the public eye as much as we possibly can.”
Seeing the devastation from 2,500 miles away has been “about as bad as you can imagine it,” said Simon, adding that while his parents are OK, “a lot of friends lost everything, [and] I know some people who passed.”
“It’s brutal, especially because I’m kind of detached from stuff out here and trying to find a way to help when you’re so far away,” he said.
To that end, Simon is partnering with the Comedy Store in West Hollywood and fellow comedians Maria Bruggere and Eddie Ifft for “Laughs for Lahaina,” a fundraiser taking place at the legendary venue Wednesday night.
“Laughs for Lahaina” features an array of popular comedians, including social media sensation Trevor Wallace, Craig Robinson of “The Office” and Jonah Ray of of Comedy Central’s “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail,” a show he hosted with Kumail Nanjiani.
In addition to Simon, multiple performers have personal ties to Hawaii, including Ray, who grew up in Kailua on the island of Oahu, and Kermit Apaio and Paul Ogata.
As Bruggere noted, Hawaii is known for its sense of community, similar to the feeling at the store cultivated by longtime owner Mitzi Shore and her family.
“The Comedy Store, in my humble opinion, is the best venue to see comedy, definitely in L.A. and maybe the country. It has a special sort of community sense for comedians and people who love comedy … Hawaii is a community place … and doing it somewhere where it could be really special was really important to me and to Willie,” Bruggere said.
Brittany Everett, programming manager for the Comedy Store, noted that many of their performers hail from or frequently tour in Hawaii and “love it so much.”
“We wanted to showcase a lineup of comedians that actually are from Hawaii. This cause is near and dear to their hearts,” she said.
Not only will 100% of ticket sales go toward relief efforts, but so will the proceeds from a raffle, which includes a signed board from legendary surfer Laird Hamilton and a surfing lesson with actor and instructor John Philbin, who starred in “North Shore” and “Point Break.”
But it’s not just about the money, which is going to the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund.
“The jokes for sure lighten the mood. You can forget, for even a moment, the brutality of the thing and laugh about something, take your mind off of stuff,” Simon said. “Comedy is very healing, and this isn’t something that’s going to be solved with comedy, but it’s something that can lighten it a little bit. It’s a skill set I’ve honed for a long time, and I’m glad to be able to use it this time.”
Many tickets are sold out, but general admission tickets remain as of Monday afternoon. Donations can also be made on the event’s page.
“Laughs for Lahaina” begins at 8 p.m. in the Comedy Store’s Main Room. Doors open at 7.