TORONTO – When Lauren Miller Rogen and her funnyman husband Seth Rogen began doing comedy benefits in support of Alzheimer’s, they weren’t sure how to convey the gravity of the disease while also entertaining audiences.
“We hardly mentioned Alzheimer’s,” Miller Rogen recalled of the initial Hilarity for Charity gala in 2013. “Alzheimer’s is, unfortunately, an incredibly depressing disease. There are no survivors. No one can get up there and tell their tale of how they survived Alzheimer’s and came out on the other side.”
She added: “It’s a really delicate balance between the brutal reality of Alzheimer’s and what you have to do to keep people excited and involved.”
At the second event, Miller Rogen spent a few minutes onstage talking about how the disease has affected her own life (two of her grandparents were afflicted and her mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 55 — when Miller Rogen was just 25).
The pair eventually found a tone they felt comfortable with and staged more shows — including an event at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival, which will air Sunday on the Comedy Network.
Miller Rogen said the locale seemed like a natural fit for her husband, the Vancouver-raised star of “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.”
“Everyone immediately thought, well, we have to highlight the Canadian-ness of it all. … I think they just thought what could they do that would excite people the most? And that’s what happened … ketchup chips, doughnut holes and drinking from the Stanley Cup.”
Featuring a lineup that includes comedians Hannibal Buress and Jim Norton, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and hockey star P.K. Subban, the full 90-minute special will be available on demand following its broadcast at TheComedyNetwork.ca and Comedy GO.
Mixed among the laughs is a goal to raise money and to educate young people about Alzheimer’s, a mission that was borne out of Miller Rogen’s experience after her mother’s diagnosis.
“It really became quickly apparent to me how alone I felt in that situation,” she said. “But I knew I wasn’t alone. I just felt that way.”
“Alzheimer’s is stereotypically a disease that is considered one that affects old people … but while people who are older get it, it’s a disease unlike many others in how it affects the entire family because of the level of caregiving that’s involved, and so young people are incredibly touched by Alzheimer’s every day.”
While her family is still grappling with the disease, Miller Rogen says the rewards from Hilarity for Charity have been immediate.
“It’s so incredible … almost daily I hear from people. I feel so lucky to do this and get to experience that because I really was truly feeling so helpless and sad and angry and I don’t really anymore … I get to also have this other part of me that experiences all this great connection with people and feel like I’m really making a difference and helping people get through a really tough time.”