Reproductive rights are no laughing matter, but fundraising on their behalf can be, as a clutch of comedians -- led by Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis -- demonstrated when they sold out Largo at the Coronet for “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” a benefit for the Texas Abortion Fund.
The fund is part of a nationwide network, “A Is For,” that supports state-by-state campaigns against legislative restrictions on reproductive rights, and the proceeds from Sunday’s benefit went directly to the Lone Star State’s Whole Women’s Health Fund, Lilith Fund, Fund Texas Women, and TEA Fund.
Silverman, Galifianakis and a cast of other comedians performed Sunday evening under tight security as half a dozen anti-abortion protestors picketed outside the La Cienega Boulevard theater.
The event's organizers -- actresses Martha Plimpton and Sarah Thyre -- were still tallying the proceeds on Monday from the capacity crowd that paid up to $100 per ticket to see the two-hour show. With donations still coming in via the Internet, Plimpton said she expects the total amount raised to reach $20,000.
In addition to the show's stand-up routines, the Sunday event also featured an impromptu auction for a Phyllis Diller white feather hat. The comedian's signature headpiece fetched $750 after a spirited bidding war between Masters of Sex actor Michael Sheen and Raising Hope showrunner Mike Mariano. Although Mariano won the hat, Sheen kicked in $750 in matching funds.
Silverman, meanwhile, arrived onstage wearing a red T-shirt printed with the words: "I stand with Texas women," and proclaimed, "Our rights are being chipped away at," which set the evening’s tone.
Other participants included: Retta, Laura Kightlinger, Josh Homme, Steve Agee, Jen Kirkman, Tiffany Haddish and Andy Richter.
The event’s performers and organizers found themselves pilloried across the conservative blogosphere and radio frequencies over the weekend. As the progressive Texas Observer pointed out on its own blog, even before Sunday evening's curtain rose, some of the state’s Republican officeholders were using the benefit to do some fundraising of their own.
Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, for example, sent out an appeal urging his donors to "stand with me today and stop Hollywood from its destructive liberal behavior." According to Dewhurst, “Hollywood believes so strongly in ending innocent life, that it's using jokes to raise money to fund abortions.… It's disturbing that people who don't even reside in Texas feel the need to change our laws, and use comedy as a way to raise money for a medical procedure that can deeply harm the health of a woman, not to mention end an innocent life."
Glenn Beck complained to his radio listeners that “What this is really about is changing the culture in Texas. They are doing everything they can -- the progressives -- to center in on Texas. If they get Texas, we are done.… What do you think immigration reform is for? Why do you think they wanted to make sure that everybody can vote without any kind of ID whatsoever? It is because if you can flip Texas, you are finished. Why do you think we have been saying, ‘Move to Texas’?”
Advocates for reproductive rights, of course, take a different view, pointing out that their ability to raise money in support of their cause inside Texas is severely constrained by the fact that most of those affected by the state’s restrictive abortion statutes are women from poor or working-class households.