“Is Ebola Not as Sexy as Hurricanes or Tsunamis?”: West Africa Benefit Concert Comes to New York

Ebola nyc
People march to end Ebola in New York October 24, 2014. Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Comedians Fred Armisen, David Cross, Jim Gaffigan, Janeane Garofalo and others will appear together at New York’s Irving Plaza this Wednesday, though the occasion is more urgent than comedic. It’s a benefit concert to raise money for West Africa, where the death toll from Ebola now exceeds 5,000 and the epidemic is said to be “nowhere near over.”

The idea came together fast. Organizer and host Jena Friedman said it was less than two months ago when she and co-host Greg Barris decided to take action.

“I think that a lot of people want to do something but feel paralyzed,” Friedman, a stand-up comedian and former writer for The Late Show With David Letterman who now works as a field producer for The Daily Show, told Newsweek. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there. A lot of fear. So many people in the media [are] focusing on how it’s affecting us. But it’s really kind of taking a toll on these West African countries—and it seems like people don’t really care.”

The idea for the show stemmed from surprise that a star-studded event, perhaps along the lines of 2012’s Concert for Sandy Relief, had not already been planned. All proceeds from this show will be donated to the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, which has helped contain at least a dozen Ebola outbreaks during the past two decades.

In addition to comedians, the show will feature This American Life host Ira Glass and musicians Ted Leo, Regina Spektor and Jack Dishel, as well as yet-to-be-named “secret guests.”

“We just wanted to put that together to raise money for the people who have been on the front lines, helping to contain it,” Friedman said. “A couple months ago I was joking onstage like, ‘Why are there no benefits for West Africa? Is Ebola not as sexy as hurricanes or tsunamis? Why aren’t they doing stuff to help with West Africa?’ It was less about the fear and more about, ‘We need to do something.’”

Friedman teamed up with fellow comedian Greg Barris to get people to perform. “We contacted friends of ours who have a history of doing benefits and are passionate and give a shit,” she said. The plan was originally to host the event in a smaller venue, but then Live Nation and Irving Plaza, which holds 1,025 people, expressed interest.

“This benefit is not going to raise a ton of money, by any means,” Friedman admitted. “But if it just gets people thinking about things that they can do,” then the goal will have been met. “We’re trying to inspire other artists and philanthropists to donate and help West Africa and contain Ebola.”

The Benefit for West Africa Relief takes place November 19 at Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place in New York.