Since 2009, there has been one holiday event in Salt Lake City that raises hundreds to thousands of dollars in Christmas cheer for those in need while allowing participants to drink, laugh and be merry. Comedy Cares is an event like no other, which has become bigger and bigger every year to the point that it is now giving Saint Nick a run for his money, and it’s all for a great cause. It is organizer and local comedian Guy Seidel’s personal favorite night of the year, and people can get involved in one of the most fun, most funny and most talked-about Christmas fundraisers in town.
Now on it’s eighth year, Comedy Cares started as an unofficial event back in 2009 when Seidel — who, at the time, was still a fairly new comic — got the idea while promoting a show. Seidel says, “I went into KBER to promote a show a couple of weeks before Christmas, and someone was in there looking for help. They had a baby that had some health problems — they were broke and had no money. I was there to plug a show to make money, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe we could do something at the show tonight to help this family out.’” He used the show he had that night to ask people to pitch in and throw money in a jar, which ended up raising around 200–300 dollars for the family. That first show, he says, “wasn’t really official; it wasn’t called anything. I was just like ‘Well, we better help out this family tonight.’ That’s just how I was raised. My mother was like that.” As his career grew, he felt the need to do more with the show as well. “I wanted to use that voice, that platform to do good.”
He says that he “couldn’t not” use his platform to do something good to give back. “Even before I was a comedian, my mother got me involved with the angel tree program,” he says. “When I was in high school I would take money and get an angel from the angel tree. It’s just that I couldn’t think of not doing it.” He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not a saint — in fact, he frequently makes fun of himself for being a ‘scumbag’ onstage. However, he says, “If you have a voice, use it. There are so many comedians that like to go out and scream about politics or local politics or politics within the scene, which I’m guilty of myself, but I want to use the voice that I have to do more good than negative. I’ve done plenty of negative, but hopefully, this will offset it.”
The very next year, Seidel decided to team up with Mick and Allen (the afternoon team on KBER) to do the whole thing again. “They do a thing called Christmas wishes,” says Seidel. “People will call in or write emails saying either why they need it or somebody they know needs it. And then, Mick and Allen will read those letters on air. Sometimes they will even bring the people in, and they’ll read their letter and say, ‘Here is ‘x’ amount of dollars to go get your kids Christmas and have a turkey or pay the light bill or whatever.’” KBER distributes the proceeds that they raise, as well as the Comedy Cares show, through the Children of the Earth Foundation. “It’s really cool because you get to hear your money going to work. If you tune into KBER during the month of December it’s really cool to listen to people getting help,” he says.
The ticket price is $10, and all of the proceeds — as well as the proceeds from the raffle and auction —goes to the charity. “Nobody is making money off of this,” side says. “The only profit is food and beer sales at the venue, but Wiseguys is donating the door charge to the event. Just by showing up you’re helping. Last year, we raised over $12,600 and some change, so it’s gotten to be a pretty big deal.” Each year, the amount raised has doubled, but Seidel doesn’t expect to double the amount this year. “I don’t see that happening,” he says. “That’s not me being glass-half-empty, but it’s just not realistic. I would want to at least beat that. If we matched it, I would be happy, but if we beat it, that would just be icing on the cake. The more money we raise, the more families we can help during Christmastime.”
And if they did double it? “It would almost be hard to get all of that distributed between the 12th and the 24th, but it would be fun to try,” side says. “In fact, any money raised that could not be used for the holiday season would be donated directly to the Children and the Earth Foundation, as they have giving projects year round, such as helping the families of children with cancer. Seidel is focused on raising as much as he can, no matter how it is distributed. “My thing is to let kids have a good Christmas. Too much money? I’d love to have that problem. I’ve been broke, especially at Christmastime, I can’t imagine having kids on top of that. I can’t wrap my head around that. The fewer people that have that problem, the better. It’s for kids.”
When people arrive to Wiseguys, they will see a bunch of items up for raffle and auction onstage. “Then what we do is we have performers come up,” Seidel says. “It’s getting so big that we have to keep cutting the show time back because we have so much stuff to give away.” He and his comedy partner, Marcus, will also be performing their musical comedy set. Their show alone is typically worth a $20 admission, so throwing in several more comedians and items to win, that is worth the $10 admission price and then some. It’s an inexpensive night of entertainment where the end result is helping up to several hundred people to have a happier holiday season — what’s not to love?
Speaking of the items up for grabs, the donations get bigger, better and more bountiful every year. “We’ve got some pretty good stuff this year already,” Seidel says. “We’ve got a bunch of passes to ski resorts and hotels, a bunch of gift cards. As far as material things go, we’ve got an antique Punch Out arcade game, we’ve got a TV, we have a cool Fat Tire Bike and an NES classic that can play all those old games.” There’s so many items to win that Seidel attempts to list them all, but gets lost in his own excitement. “Gift baskets full of stuff. We’ve still got a bunch of stuff coming in as well.” Discussing the items that have been donated in years past is impressive enough and well worth anticipating what will happen this year. “The last couple of years, we’ve had autographed guitars from big artists like Imagine Dragons and Mötley Crüe, stuff that’s going to fetch some money. Guitars are big — a lot of people donate autographed guitars or guitars that have art painted on them. But we’ve also had random stuff, like TVs and Bluray players.” From the sound of things, there’s a great chance that most people won’t walk away empty-handed. “It’s so big now that we’ve had to turn it into a raffle and an auction. So the general stuff that anybody can use gets raffled. Then some of the bigger stuff, like the Punch Out arcade game, that’s going to get auctioned, because not everybody can fit an arcade game in their house.”
He explains that, typically, when someone wins a raffle item they have no use for, they re-donate it, or allow it to be auctioned off. “It’s like Christmas morning as a kid, but for adults,” Seidel says. “People come in that have won major items off of a dollar. One guy last year bought $5 of raffle tickets and won three things. Another guy spent 100 bucks and didn’t get anything, so it’s just fun to see where it goes.”
Where does he get all of the items donated? “It’s turned into mostly private people donating,” says Seidel. “The show’s grown to be so fun that everybody that comes always comes back. So they are the ones who are donating bigger things. My friends Jason and Misty, they donated a big Segway hoverboard thing.” Many local businesses donate merchandise, gift certificates, free rounds of golf and massages, and there is something for everybody.
The best story of his where his donations come from, though, is within Seidel’s family. “My great niece, Taylor, she’s 7 years old,” he says. “She goes out and bakes bread and sells it to family members and rounds up donations. I think she’s got $500 this year — she’s 7! Then she takes that money and goes out and buys something and donates it to the cause.” This year, her cash has netted over a dozen donated items, like a Bluetooth gaming chair. “And she can’t come to the event because it’s 21 and over, but last year, I took her to the radio station and put her on the radio. I’ve got a bunch of people that go out and do a lot of leg work for me. I’ve got some helpers out there.”
Notably, Seidel has connections not only with items donated from KBER like signed records and guitars, but he’s also got some musician friends who aid the cause. “My buddy Rob Fenn, he’s a world-famous rock photographer and Rob Zombie’s official photographer,” he says. “We grew up in the same town — tiny, little podunk town in Eastern Utah — and last year he donated a bunch of Hailstorm stuff and a bunch of Rob Zombie autographed stuff. Prints, canvas prints, that fetched a lot of money.”
However, even with the massive amounts of great items already donated, he could always use more items. More items, as he put it, means more money raised for kids’ Christmases. What he’s looking for are things that people would want to win, new items preferred, with the exception of collectible items like autographs, antiques or really cool art. “I mean, you could just go to Costco and get a knife set, buy something on eBay, Black Friday or at Walmart if there’s a good deal on a tool set or whatever.” He urges people to contact him directly through his Facebook if they want to donate items. “We’re doing very well this year, but we could always use more. The more stuff we have, the more money that is raised.” He’d rather have people buy items and donate items to the raffle or auction rather than donate money, and he is willing to pick up items, or they can be dropped off directly at Wiseguys. He posts all of the items that have currently been donated on Facebook, viewable to the public. For larger items, donations can be tax deductible, sweetening the pot just that much more.
“I’ve had people joke that they do their Christmas shopping at comedy cares,” Seidel says. “Whether someone spends $10 on raffle tickets or hundreds on an auctioned item, everyone is guaranteed entertainment and excitement. He’s even got some things that would make gift-giving a treat. “The really one-of-a-kind thing I have is from Rich Wilson, a local comic who is an amazing woodworker. He made a scale old-school Nintendo console out of wood, and it looks exactly like an old-school Nintendo, just out of wood and stained. When you open it up, it holds remote controls or comic books or whatever. We have that, and it’s probably going to be auctioned.” In fact, you can check out a video of Wilson making that very item here.
As a final thought, he reflects on why giving back is so absolutely essential at this moment: “People and the country are so divided right now. There’s so much doomsday in the news and on Facebook that it’s really hard to get away from it. It’ll be cool to veer away from that a little bit, as much as we can anyway.” Comedy Cares aims to entertain while bringing people together, and make them laugh while they are donating to a great cause. “It’s not about lifestyle or the election or anything — anybody that comes to the show has a good time. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are; everybody is there for the same cause.”
He adds that the show is never not sold out, so get tickets now at wiseguyscomedy.com.
To contact Guy Seidel on Facebook, to view the items up for raffle and auction or arrange a donation, go to facebook.com/laughatguy.